History and Theory of Photography 1

Display Schedule

Code Completion Credits Range Language Instruction Semester
307EDT1 ZK 4 4T English winter

Subject guarantor


Name of lecturer(s)


Learning outcomes of the course unit

students will be introduced to the history of photography, media and visual culture of the 19th century and to the main contemporary historical and theoretical approaches in the field

Mode of study


Prerequisites and co-requisites


Course contents

History and Theory of Photography 1

winter 2019

  1. (07/10)Introduction: theory and history of photography(Tomáš Dvořák)

Course structure overview; requirements for completion and study materials; introduction to required reading for the next lecture. Libraries and online sources, techniques of academic writing.

  1. (14/10)The Emergence of Technical Images(Tomáš Dvořák)

The lecture is devoted to visual culture at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries with emphasis on the mechanical and technical forms of depiction (camera obscura, camera lucida, laterna magica, Lichtenberg and Chladni figures, panorama and diorama, optical toys, mechanical recording devices, print and lithograph). It also covers various approaches to issues in historical perception and its relation to the development of visual technologies and artifacts, particularly the method of media archeology.

Jonathan CRARY, “Modernizing Vision.” In: Hal Foster (ed.), Vision and Visuality. Seattle: Bay Press 1988, pp. 29–44.

  1. (21/10)Photographic portrait and the problem of modern individuality(Tomáš Dvořák)

The lecture covers photographic portraits of the 19th and early 20th centuries with emphasis on Nadar, Daumier, Galton and Sander; tracing the changes and mutual relationships of the portrait genre in painting, drawing and graphics, including the silhouette and caricature traditions. It explains the genesis of the concept of photographic portrait in relation to the tradition of physiognomy, criminological identification or attempts to define and capture social types and thus trace the mutual conditions of photographic conventions of representing human individuality and the philosophical, sociological and bureaucratic understanding of the subject at the time.

John STAUFFER – Zoe TRODD – Celeste-Marie BERNIER, Picturing Frederick Douglass. An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American, New York – London: W. W. Norton & Co. 2015, pp. 8–55.

  1. (28/10) - state holidays
  2. (04/11) Technical images in social sciences(Michal Šimůnek)

When reflecting on the mutual relations between technical images and social sciences, many scholars have observed that social sciences (mainly sociology and anthropology) and technical images (mainly photography and film) were products of the same set of historical circumstances. In this respect, the birth of both photography and sociology is understood as the response on uncertainties, risks, and desires that have emerged on the dawn of modernity. Drawing on the analysis of this specific historical moment the lecture traces relations between thinking on photography and the paradigmatic changes in social sciences. The role, uses and meanings of photographs in social sciences are thus discussed from the paradigmatic perspective of positivism and colonialism, post-positivism and post-colonialism and from the perspective of several turns in social sciences (visual, sensory, reflexive, postmodern, dialogical, digital etc.). Alongside this historical and theoretical overview three main areas of using photographs in social sciences are described: 1) using photographs in the sense of data gathering (researchers take photographs to study the social world); 2) studying photographs produced by the culture (researchers analyse photographs others have taken); 3) using photographs for representing and dissemination of knowledge on society. The lecture focuses not only on the contributions of photography to social sciences but also on the potential uses of social sciences (theories, concepts, methods and knowledge on society) for photographic practices.

Howard S. BECKER. 1995. „Visual Sociology, Documentary Photography, and Photojournalism: It's (Almost) All a Matter of Context.“Visual Sociology10 (1–2): 4–14.

  1. (11/11) Pictorialism(Josef Ledvina)

The lecture will cover the development of the relationship of photography to painting, touching on issues of indexicality, respectively iconicity of the photographic image and points towards various times in the history of photography when photographers were interested in the potential use of photographic technology for creating stylized images rather than objective copies of reality. This begins with the self-awareness process of photography - (Anna Fárová), refined printing and Stieglitz's pictorial photography. The issues of photography as an image and intersecting of painting and photography will be further developed in examples from 20th century art („Picture Generation“, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Gerhard Richter, etc.) through theory writings pointing at the image considerations of photography in contemporary art (Michael Fried, Jean Francois Chevrier, Douglas Crimp).

A. D. Coleman, “The Directorial Mode. Note towards a Definition” (1976), in: Vicky Goldberg, ed., Photography in Print. Writings from 1816 to the Present, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981, s. 480–491.

  1. (18/11) Photography as (scientific) visualization(Tomáš Dvořák)

The lecture focuses on epistemological aspects of photography: it analyses the relationships among technical devices, automation and knowledge and presents the use of photography in scientific research of the 19th century (astronomy, physic, physiology, psychiatry, statistics) with emphasis on the graphic and photographic methods of E.-J. Marey and changes in the understanding of objectivity in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Thomas KEENAN, „Counter-forensics and Photography.“ Grey Room, 2014, č. 55, s. 58–77.

  1. (25/11) Photographic reproductions of artworks(Tomáš Dvořák)

The lecture is devoted to the development of photograph reproduction processes (photogravure and photolithograph) in the 19th century with emphasis on the reproduction of artworks and its consequences for expert and lay perception (tradition) of visual arts and the understanding of the difference between painting and photography.

Walter BENJAMIN, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 2008, pp. 19–55.

  1. (02/12) Technological and semiotic specificity of photography(Michal Šimůnek)

The nature or specificity of photography is usually considered in three mutually related aspects: in technological sense, photography is often regarded as an automatic, mechanical reproduction of reality; from semiotic perspective, the specificity of photography is associated mainly with indexicality of photographic image; from epistemological point of view the distinctiveness of photography is recognised in its ability to meet the conventional conception of realistic and objective depiction. The lecture describes the development of thinking about these distinctive features of photography and outlines three possible theoretical stances towards its “supposed” distinctiveness: 1) recognition of the specificity of photography and its “unique” identity; 2) rejection of all specificity claims and denial of mono-media understanding of photography – that is understanding the nature and meaning of photography as always given by discourses and contexts that surround it; 2) recognition/rejection stance that understands photography as deeply uncertain and ambivalent medium that has several distinctive features but that is at the same time deeply context-bound.

George BAKER. “Photography's Expanded Field.” October, 2005. Vol. 114, p. 120–140.

  1. (09/12)

Creative Misuse of Technology and Playing Against Programs of Apparatuses (Michal Šimůnek)

The lecture seeks to address those uses of photography, which question the technological nature of photography and its social and cultural position. In this respect, we will consider photography through the conceptions of the creative misuse of technology, meta-pictures, and Flusser’s call for playing against programs of apparatuses. Considering photography through these conceptions is precarious but at the same time, provocative and inspiring endeavor. What is photography as technology? Are there any ways how to play against photography? What can this kind of play reveal about the role of photography in our culture and everyday life? Are there any creative misuses of photography that have the potential to transform photography itself? The lecture aims to search for answers to these questions, mainly in the contexts of conceptual and “experimental” photography and DIY vernacular photographic practices.

Marc LENOT. “Flusser and Photographers, Photographers and Flusser.” Flusser Studies 2017, 24. Dostupné na. http://www.flusserstudies.net/sites/www.flusserstudies.net/files/media/attachments/marc-lenot-flusser-photographers-photographers-flusser.pdf

  1. (16/12) Essay consultation (Tomáš Dvořák)

Recommended or required reading

see course contents

texts available at:


Assessment methods and criteria

A requirement for completing the course attendance requirements (max. 2 absences per semester are tolerated), submission of both required results (if not submitted then only one paper on the assigned date, overall course grade: F).

The following grades are determined by the content of the two results (100-90% = A, 90-80% = B, 80-70% = C, 70-60% = D, 60-50% = E, 50-0% = F).

40% - 1st written paper of 2 -3 standard pages, description & interpretation of a 19th-century photograph.

Due date: 25 November 2019

60% - 2nd written paper of 5 - 10 standard pages on a priorly agreed topic must be submitted by 6 January 2020 (both texts in pdf format sent to tomdvorak@famu.cz). If there is no confirmation of the sent email recieved the paper will be considered NOT submitted.

The exam will have the form of a discussion of both texts with the teacher.


On alternate year for 1. and 2. class

Further information

This course is an elective for all students of this school

Schedule for winter semester 2019/2020:

room 112
Room No. 112

(Lažanský palác)
(lecture parallel1)
Date Day Time Tutor Location Notes No. of paralel
Mon 13:10–16:25 Tomáš DVOŘÁK Room No. 112
Lažanský palác
lecture parallel1

Schedule for summer semester 2019/2020:

The schedule has not yet been prepared

The subject is a part of the following study plans