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Theories of Photography and Film


Admission requirements



In this course we will discuss some seminal theoretical texts about photography and film. In particular, we will focus upon essays that aim to address the medium-specific characteristics of each of them. In the case of photography, one can think of such issues as ‘that-has-been’ (Barthes), ‘memento mori/privileged moment’ (Sontag), ‘indexical icon’ (Krauss), ‘trace of perfect crime’ (Baudrillard), or ‘apparatus’ (Flusser). In the case of cinema, we can think of formalist theories (by Arnheim and Balázs), the concepts of suture (defended by Žižek) of cinematic excess (Thompson and Williams) as well as of paracinema (Sconce), storytelling aspects in the so-called ‘mind-game film’, the workings of ideology (Wood, Comolli and Narboni), and the film festival network (Elsaesser). In addition to the debates on medium-specificity of photography and film, this lecture series will also reflect upon the consequences of the digitization of these media. Moreover, we will shed a further light on the theories by discussing them in relation to primary material: mono-disciplinary photographs and films, as well as mixed-media works.

Course objectives

In the course Theory of Photography and Film, the student gains knowledge of and insight into:

  • the methodologies and research methods employed in the academic study of film and photography – the methods and evolution of theory in the history of film and photography – the history of thought about the professions, and the most imoprtant theoretical apporaches – the use and testing of methods and theories

The students possesses the following academic and professional skills: – the independent academic study and interpretation of artefacts with the aid of relevant sources and specialist literature specific to the two media – a training in presenting research results clearly, orally or in writing, with accompanying argumentation


13 lectures (two hours) in first semester from September to December: timetable

Teaching method

  • Lectures, seminar

Test method

  • The Photography part: written exam with essay questions (50%);

  • The Film part: one brief essay (15%) and a longer paper (35%)

Compensation is possible, but each part must be at least 5.0 or higher.


  • Course information (e.g. schedule of series and objectives) and course documents (e.g. additional documents for lectures)

Reading list

Van Gelder, H., Westgeest, H., Photography Theory in Historical Perspective. Case Studies from Contemporary Art, Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2011. – Some extra short texts (to be found on Blackboard) – Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, eds. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford University Press (either sixth edition, 2004, or seventh edition, 2008)


Via uSis


Peter Verstraten or Helen Westgeest