History and Theory of Photography 1

Display Schedule

Code Completion Credits Range Language Instruction Semester
307EHT1 ZK 4 4 lecture hours (45 min) of instruction per week, 64 to 84 hours of self-study English

Subject guarantor


Name of lecturer(s)


Learning outcomes of the course unit

Students will gain knowledge of the history of photography, art and visual culture of the 19th century, learn to work with specialist literature, conduct research, analyse photographic images and present their knowledge in the form of a critical essay

Mode of study

lecture, seminar

Prerequisites and co-requisites


Course contents

History and Theory of Photography 1

winter 2022


no lecture - Poněšice


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.


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.


Photography and Intermediality (Tomáš Dvořák)

The lecture situates photography within the nineteenth-century intermedia complex and addresses the position of photography in the debates on old and new media.

Geoffrey BATCHEN, „Electricity Made Visible.“ in: W. Chun – T. Keenan (eds.), New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader.New York – London: Routledge 2006, pp. 27–44.


Daguerre, Talbot, Archer (Tomáš Dvořák)

The lecture focuses on the most important photographic processes of the nineteenth century and on printing of photographic images.

William Henry Fox Talbot, Pencil of Nature


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.


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.

Joel SNYDER, “Visualization and Visibility.” in: Caroline A. Jones, Peter Galison (eds.), Picturing Science, Producing Art. London: Routledge 2013, pp. 379-397.



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.


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.


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.


On the Conception of Buttonless Camera

The lecture addresses the changing socio-technical conditions of vernacular (mainly family and home mode) photography brought about by emerging visual technologies designed to replace human camera operators by non-human operators. In this sense, the lecture traces the history of the camera's shutter button and the photographic gesture while focusing mainly on cameras which are not designed for the press-the-button gesture, but rather for a variety of the set-and-forget operations. Considering several examples of the growing family of buttonless cameras (e.g. photo traps, self-tracking and sensor-operated cameras, Nikon Heartography, Ka-Mu-Ra touch-surface camera, Google clips camera, and smart home camera systems) the lecture examines photography from the perspective of the shifting balance between human and non-human control over the photographic process.

Rachel PLOTNICK. Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic, and the Politics of Pushing. Cambridge, MA – London: The MIT Press, 2018. Chapter 5: We Do the Rest.


Final essay consultation (Tomáš Dvořák)

--- 09/01/2023 --- FINAL PAPER DEADLINE

Recommended or required reading


Assessment methods and criteria

The course ends with a classified examination. A condition for passing the course is both the fulfilment of attendance (a maximum of 2 absences per semester are tolerated) and the submission of two written outputs:

  1. a paper of 1-2 standard pages describing and interpreting a selected 19th century photograph, to be submitted by 21 November 2022 in PDF format to tomdvorak@famu.cz
  2. a final term paper of 5-10 standard pages on a pre-arranged topic, to be submitted by 9 January 2023 in PDF format to tomdvorak@famu.cz

If you do not receive an email confirmation, consider your paper undelivered.

The exam takes the form of a debate over both texts.



Schedule for winter semester 2022/2023:

room 107
Room No. 1

(Lažanský palác)
(lecture parallel1)
Date Day Time Tutor Location Notes No. of paralel
Mon 13:10–16:25 Tomáš DVOŘÁK Room No. 1
Lažanský palác
lecture parallel1

Schedule for summer semester 2022/2023:

The schedule has not yet been prepared

The subject is a part of the following study plans