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Topical Debates on Photography in Historical Perspective


Admission requirements

A relevant BA-degree


In this course we will discuss topical debates and some seminal theoretical texts about photography. The first part of the course focuses on debates related to characteristics of the analogue and digital medium photography. Debates on issues of representation usually deal with concepts such as ‘indexicality’ and ‘transparency’; discussions on issues of time often compare photography with film and use ‘death’ as metaphor for photography; or photography critics and theorists interrogate aspects of decontextualisation, construction, or self-reflectiveness.
The second part of the course will focus on the terms of the debate on the historiography of photography. Rather than looking into the history of photography and itself, we will address the methodological aspects and implication and development of photography as discipline. We will discuss views on the ‘origin’ of photography, when it was predominantly regarded as a ‘neutral document’. We will address the historiography of the use and meaning of the photographic document. In recent decades, photography has been increasingly identified with an artistic domain. We will examine the relation between the artistic and the documentary approach of photography, and thereby introduce a number of formal themes, like sharpness, tonal values, format, colour versus black-and-white and the digital versus the analogue.

Course objectives

In the course Topical Debates on Photography the student gains knowledge of and insight into:

the methodologies and research methods employed in the academic study of photography; the methods and evolution of theory in the history of photography; the history of thought about the medium and the makers; and the most important theoretical approaches and seminal texts.

The students possess 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 medium photography; a training in presenting research results clearly, orally or in writing, with accompanying argumentation.


Timetable on the website

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load for the course: 10 EC = 280 hours.

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Hours spent on participating in Photo Salon meeting: 4 hours

  • Time to prepare two short presentations: 12 hours

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature: 100 hours

  • Time to write two short papers and a research proposal: 140 hours

Assessment method

Part 1 (Theories of Photography):

  • Paper of 1500 words for Rietveld Academy project (35%)

Part 2 (Historiography of Photography):

  • Essay of 4000 words for Huis Marseille Photo Salon project (65%)

Compensation is possible, but each part must be at least 5.0.
In the case of a fail you are entitled to rewrite the papers.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with an overview of current affairs, as well as specific information about (components of) the course.

Reading list

Part 1 (Theories of Photography): *Van Gelder, H., Westgeest, H., Photography Theory in Historical Perspective. Case Studies from Contemporary Art, Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2011. *Some extra (short) texts (available on Blackboard)
Part 2 (Historiography of Photography): *Texts will be made available on Blackboard.


Enrollment through uSis is mandatory. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs

Contact details

Media Studies student administration, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144;

Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 1.02b.