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Research

Research is a central part of The Image Centre's mandate. This research is focused on the study of photography and related media, with an emphasis on photojournalism and documentary media, from the nineteenth century to the present.

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Carla Jean Stokes, 2019 Elaine Ling Fellow. © Rachel Verbin, Peter Higdon Research Centre, The Image Centre.

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Frances Claire Dorenbaum, 2020 Elaine Ling Fellow. © Rachel Verbin, Peter Higdon Research Centre, The Image Centre.

About

Research is a central part of The Image Centre’s mandate. This research is focused on the study of photography and related media, with an emphasis on photojournalism and documentary media, from the nineteenth century to the present. As part of its dedication to the history of photography and related cultural studies, The Image Centre fosters artist projects related to its collections. The Image Centre also supports research through teaching, workshops, symposia, publications, scholarly and artist fellowships, as well as institutional partnerships. Through these endeavours, The Image Centre has become an international hub for research about photography, welcoming established and emerging academics, as well as students. These scholarly activities have provided the Toronto Metropolitan University community with the opportunity to benefit from the latest research on the role and impact of images in our societies, to discuss and challenge ideas and to take advantage of an international network of researchers.

From the start, one of the first priorities for research at The Image Centre has been to collect and produce data about the 292,000 photographs that make up the Black Star Collection. A series of Student Research Workshops sought to bridge the gap between these prints and their dissemination in the illustrated press. The students involved in the workshops identified these published Black Star pictures in the main North American magazines of the time, including Life, Look and Time. The Image Centre has also organized four symposia, bringing together more than sixty international scholars. 

Symposia

Since launching in 2012, The Image Centre has organized five symposia, bringing together more than eighty international scholars. 

Conference participants have included emerging scholars (Estelle Blaschke, Helen MacFarlane) and established academics and curators from prestigious institutions such as Princeton University (Anne McCauley), Metropolitan Museum of Art (Malcolm Daniel), Harvard University (Robin Kelsey), Le Louvre Museum (Dominique de Font-Réaulx), University of Chicago (Joel Snyder) and the Museum of Modern Art (Quentin Bajac). Participants and audience members alike gathered to share and discuss methodological research approaches related to images in general, and photography in particular, at Toronto Metropolitan University.

For more information and to watch videos of the symposia, visit: 

Photography: The Black Box of History (2018)
Photography Historians: A New Generation? (2015)
Collecting and Curating Photographs: Between Private and Public Collections (2014)
The “Public” Life of Photographs (2013)

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Michael Mitchell, Black Square: Alberta Badlands, Brooks, 1979, chromogenic print. Courtesy of the artist
 

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Ralph Crane, [Professor Hildebrand looks at his class, University of California], October 1948, gelatin silver print. The Black Star Collection, The Image Centre
 

Fellowships

Research fellows have the opportunity to study select areas of The Image Centre's photography collections first-hand. These include the acclaimed Black Star Collection of photo-reportage, with over a quarter-million prints spanning the twentieth century; historic and fine art photography collections; and several archives devoted to the life and work of a diverse group of photographers, including Berenice Abbott, Wendy Snyder MacNeil, Jo Spence, and Werner Wolff. Learn more

View current and past fellows

2023 The Image Centre Research Fellows

View all previous fellows

The Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellowship 
Jonathan L. Dentler

Jonathan Dentler is currently a postdoctoral researcher in Paris associated with the Early Conflict Photography and Visual AI project (EyCon) and the Laboratoire d’Excellence “Les passés dans le présent.” He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Southern California, where he also earned a graduate certificate in Visual Studies. His primary research interest is in the history of telecommunications media, the press, and visual culture, set in a transnational perspective. His dissertation, defended in 2020, is a global history of wire photography services. His next project will explore how artists, archaeologists, ethnographers, and the press theorized and imagined a prehistoric cultural diffusion around the Atlantic basin from the legendary continent of Atlantis, helping them make sense of deepening transoceanic connections from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries.

Abstract
The Wired Image: Phototelegraphy, News Agencies, and the Reinvention of the World Picture, 1917–1955

Building on efforts in photography studies to write the medium into the history of communications media, my forthcoming book (based on a dissertation defended in 2020) will show how wire photography services combined photojournalism and telecommunications to reshape the everyday experience of global events. The book begins with the first consistent use of wire photography by the press in the 1920s and follows its development through the 1950s, when it had spread globally and looking at wirephotos had become an everyday practice for millions. At The Image Centre, I want to use the collections to compare and contrast faster wire photography services with slower and sharper picture agencies that primarily worked for illustrated magazines such as Life. I will contrast the circulation networks of picture agencies that primarily served weekly illustrated magazines with those of wire photography services, analyzing how different kinds of circulation were mediated by formal and material aspects of the photographs themselves.

I am also at work on a smaller project on Life magazine’s position in an intermedial cultural field during the 1930s that will use the Image Centre’s related collections. The project’s point of departure is the way in which “Ferdinand the Bull” was represented across a host of media in the late 1930s, including, notably, illustrated magazines like Life. Ferdinand, I argue, demonstrates the intensifying links between burgeoning media conglomerates such as Time-Life, Disney, and the Radio Corporation of America, and helps us look at the illustrated press in new ways, underlining its intermedial relations.

The Singer Family Doctoral Fellowship
Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe

Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe is an art historian who writes and curates. She is currently a PhD candidate at Birkbeck University, London where she is completing a dissertation on British documentary photography from the 1970s and 1980s. She writes regularly for the international art press and has organised and contributed to exhibitions and events programmes at organisations including Halle für Kunst Lüneburg (DE), Four Corners (UK), MayDay Rooms (UK), Gallery 44 (CA), Cabinet Magazine (DE), The Kitchen (US) and the Whitney Museum of American Art (US).

Abstract
Terry Dennett: Subject to History

Dennett’s lifetime maps onto a significant period in British political history. He experienced the machinations of the post-’68 Left’s move from workerist and class-based analysis, through communitarian engagement, towards an identity-lead political outlook. Concurrently, the end of post-Second World War growth and the rise of Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal government fundamentally changed the material conditions of working people’s lives, and the landscape in which he was able to produce and distribute political photography. Dennett was affected by and responded to these changes, though not always moving with the tide in the manner available to some of his peers. It is this asynchronicity as well as his own commitment to historical work which marks Dennett’s biography as a vector through which to understand the stakes and consequences of British documentary practices in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The Penny Rubinoff Fellowship
Rowan Red Sky

Rowan Red Sky (member of Oneida Nation of the Thames) graduated with an advanced degree in Fine Art from Fanshawe College in 2010, where she studied a breadth of media but took a focus on digital photographic imagery. The same year, she completed a certificate in Photo Arts at Haliburton School of The Arts at Fleming College, where she specialized in historical and experimental cameras and chemical darkroom processes. She earned her BFA at OCAD University in 2015 where she studied Cross-disciplinary Art with a specialization in Publications, and then went on to practice as an artist based in Toronto for the next five years. In 2021 she graduated from her SSHRC-funded MA program and is currently continuing with her SSHRC-funded PhD at University of Toronto, where she studies Art History with a collaborative specialization in Book History and Print Culture.

Abstract
A Woman’s Pictorial Frontier: Photographic Strategies of Minna Keene’s Travels through Western Canada, 1914-1915

Photographic images made by Minna Keene during her travels through Western Canada in 1914-1915 are part of a broader group of nation-building images about Canada that advance the political, economic, and social imperatives of settler-colonial Europeans. My study of this collection opens questions about how the westward expansion of the Canadian frontier demanded new, yet familiar, forms of visual representation. This research project will analyse how Keene’s pictorial images of North American landscapes and the Indigenous ‘other’ compare with the synthetic ‘realism’ of early engravers, the portraits and landscapes made by nineteenth-century painters, and the masculine pictorialism of early-twentieth-century ethnographic photography. The collection offers insight into how photographic media was used by women during travel at a time of intense colonial expansion. A material exploration of the archive introduces potential for new understandings of these photographs by looking beyond the surface and borders of the image. The size and large scope of the collection, variant prints, original negatives, scrapbooks, and published reproductions in The Image Centre’s collection provide a resource for thinking through questions about Keene’s motivations and working methods. Another issue to investigate in this collection is what can be learned about the Indigenous subjects in Keene’s photographs, and what information might be available in the collection that would help to understand their lives at the ‘moment of capture’. Keene’s collection is point of focus to think about colonial representations of land and Indigenous bodies, and the transformation of land into material culture and nation-building narratives.

The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship
Nicole Cartier Barrera

Nicole Cartier Barrera is a Toronto-based researcher, writer, and curator from Bogotá, Colombia. Her interests involve contemporary visual culture in Latin America and the consolidation and circulation of narratives of resistance, emerging in themes of witnessing, spectatorship, digital journalism, forensic media, and surveillance. Exploring collective memory and post-conflict reconstruction, she investigates the ethical position of the spectators of violence inflicted on others.

Nicole holds a double BA in Visual Art and Art History from Los Andes University (2018), and a graduate degree in Curatorial Studies from the University of Toronto (2022). She is the recipient of the Reesa Greenberg Award for Curatorial Studies, the Benjamin Hart Lobko Memorial Travel Award, the Latin American Studies Engagement Award, the Canada Graduate Scholarship (SSHRC), among others. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals and books. She is part of the interdisciplinary research-creation group Hemispheric Encounters Network and a board member of artist-run centres Art Metropole and Pleasure Dome in Toronto.

Abstract
Thresholds of Liberty and Democracy

On February 27, 1980, the guerrilla group M-19 (Movimiento 19 de abril) crashed a cocktail party at the embassy of the Dominican Republic in Bogotá, Colombia and, by means of force, sieged the building. The occupation lasted 61 days, during which 18 people, including 15 ambassadors, remained hostages inside the small house, while the negotiations with the government took place. An emcampment of journalists established itself next to the military convoy enclosing the house, and for weeks, they observed patiently. The Black Star Collection contains a series of photographs resulting from those months.

Instead of insisting on the situations developing inside of the embassy, or outside of it, my research looks directly into the building’s architectural structure and explores how it becomes a threshold for the encounter of both groups: on one side, the State, the military, the public; on the other, the guerrilla members and the hostages. The divisions that are usually delineated by a house—the private and the public, the intimate and the social spheres—are disrupted by the exceptionality of the siege, the nature itself of the building—which was a regular house that had been adapted for diplomatic use— and the constant presence of media and members of the public.

The Elaine Ling Fellowship
Harmony Trowbridge

Harmony Trowbridge is a multi-disciplinary artist working in Toronto, ON. She holds a Bachelor’s in Drama from The Dan School at Queen’s University, and is about to complete her MFA in Documentary Media at TMU’s Image Centre. In 2023/24 she will embark on her second Master’s degree when she joins the cohort in the FPPCM program (MA). Harmony is honoured to have received the Elaine Ling Fellowship and wishes to express her appreciation to Charlene Heath, Katy McCormick, Blake Fitzpatrick, Kai Trowbridge-Wolters and the Peter Higdon Research Centre at The Image Centre for supporting her passion for The Black Star Collection.

Abstract
The Valley of Ashes: Rising Tide

Multidisciplinary artist Harmony Trowbridge presents her debut art installation as a part of the Doc Now Documentary Media Festival, hosted by Toronto Metropolitan University’s Doc Media MFA program. This multi-media piece will expose the dark side (and the aesthetic and rhetorical resistance it faced) of the 1939 World’s Fair in NYC by juxtaposing archival materials from some of NA’s most prestigious collections with her own photography from the site.

The Wendy Snyder MacNeil Research Fellowship
Stephen Broomer

Dr. Stephen Broomer is a media artist and film historian. He teaches at the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, and is the host of the video essay series Art & Trash, on cult and underground cinema. He has been a Fulbright visiting scholar at the University of California Santa Cruz and the Prelinger Library, has held a postdoctoral fellowship at Brock University's Centre for Canadian Studies, and is a past recipient of the Chalmers Art Fellowship. As a media artist, he has been the subject of retrospectives at the Canadian Film Institute and Anthology Film Archives. His books include Hamilton Babylon: A History of the McMaster Film Board, Codes for North: Foundations of the Canadian Avant-Garde Film, Moments of Perception: The Canadian Experimental Film, Imprints: The Films of Louise Bourque, and Exovede in the Darkroom: The Films of Rhayne Vermette.

Abstract
Wendy Snyder MacNeil: Extended Portraiture

Complex forms of critical theory emerged in the 20th century, and with their arrival, painterly traditions in portraiture became limiting and reductive. In order to bring portraiture into the modern era of complex representations, fuller views of the subject would have to come into being: views that penetrated beyond typology, that expanded beyond the criteria traditionally conveyed in portraits (class, age, gender), that reached the core of their subjects by integrating content beyond visual perception, such as biographical elements, into the image itself, transforming the image from an instant into an interval. For American photographer and filmmaker Wendy MacNeil, such questions of portraiture and its potential narrative extensions led to a body of photographic portraits that appropriate past images – images taken from other contexts, such as passports, employment IDs, and family albums – and integrate them with contemporary portraits taken by the artist. These contrasts of past and present convey information about the subject uncommon in traditional portraiture. In making them, MacNeil reflects on the history and nature of portraiture.

DISPATCH: War Photographs in Print, 1854–2008

DISPATCH: War Photographs in Print, 1854–2008 examines the production of war photographs, the role of photojournalists, and their collaboration with picture editors in the press. From Roger Fenton’s collodion plate photographs taken during the Crimean War (1853–1856) to Luc Delahaye’s images of the recent conflicts in Afghanistan (2001–present), the photographic representation of war has evolved dramatically in the occidental press over the past 150 years.

By comparing original prints with their reproductions in magazines, and in exhibiting other modes through which visual news is disseminated, DISPATCH reveals that taking a shot is only one step in the process of illustrating a war. Picture editors and art directors have always selected, trimmed, ordered and sequenced war photographs to suit their particular needs. This exhibition views these photographs not as windows open to the world, but as representations that are the product of changing editorial figures, aesthetic priorities and historical contexts.

Facing Black Star Book Cover
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The front cover of Facing Black Star

Facing Black Star 
Edited by Thierry Gervais and Vincent Lavoie

Co-published by: The Image Centre and the MIT Press, 2023

Published: June 13, 2023

The Black Star Collection at The Image Centre: the expectations, challenges, and results of a decade of research in a key photo agency's print collection.

In 2005, Toronto Metropolitan (formerly Ryerson) University (TMU) acquired the massive Black Star Collection from the photo agency previously based in New York City—nearly 292,000 black-and-white prints. Preserved at The Image Centre at TMU, the images include iconic stills of the American Civil Rights movement by Charles Moore, among thousands of ordinary photographs that were classified by theme in the agency's picture library. While the move of the collection from a corporate photo agency to a public cultural institution enables more access, researchers must still face the size of the collection, its structural organization, the materiality of the prints, and the lack of ephemera. Facing Black Star aims to fruitfully highlight this tension between research expectations and challenges.

Coeditors Thierry Gervais and Vincent Lavoie have gathered local, national, and international researchers ranging from graduate students to established scholars and curators to illuminate the staggering range of the collection, from its disquieting record of the Nazis' rise to power to its visual archive of climate change. Each contribution highlights methodological, epistemological, and political issues inherent to conducting research in photographic archives and collections, such as indexing protocols and their impact on research, the photographic archive as a place of visibility and invisibility, and the photographic archive as a hermeneutic tool.

Shedding new light on current issues in the theory and history of photography, this impressive volume containing 100 images will not only discuss the subjects portrayed in the photographs but will also address the history of photojournalism, the role of such a photographic archive in our Western societies, and ultimately photography as a medium.

Like the other volumes of the IMC Books series (MIT Press/The Image Centre [formerly the Ryerson Image Centre]), this publication will appeal as much to academics of visual history as it will to photography enthusiasts in general.

Facing Black Star can be purchased in person at The Image Centre and online here

The front cover of the book "Since 1839..."
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The front cover of Since 1839...

Since 1839... Eleven Essays on Photography
By: Clément Chéroux
Translated by: Shane B. Lillis

Co-published by: The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) and the MIT Press, 2021

Since 1839… offers a selection of essays by the renowned photography historian Clément Chéroux. Appointed Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 2020, Chéroux takes on a variety of topics, from the history of vernacular photography to the influence of documentary photography on Surrealism. These texts, newly translated into English and published together in one volume for the first time, reflect the breadth of Chéroux's thinking, the rigor of his approach, and his endless curiosity about photographs.

In this strikingly designed and generously illustrated volume, Chéroux presents unique case studies and untold stories. He discusses ways of sharing images, from the nineteenth century to the digital age; considers the utopian ideals of early photography; and analyzes the duality of amateur photography. Among other things, he describes the appeal of photographs snapped from a speeding train and explains historical value of first-generation prints of photographs. Through an analysis of key photographs taken on 9/11, Chéroux shows that the same six images were seen again and again in the press. Widely ranging, erudite, and engaging, these eleven essays present his innovative investigations of the histories of photography.

Since 1839... Eleven Essays on Photography can be purchased in person at The Image Centre and online here

Watch the Since 1839... book launch event on YouTube here.

The front cover of Documentary in Dispute.
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The front cover of Documentary in Dispute

Documentary in Dispute: The Original Manuscript of Changing New York by Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland
By: Sarah M. Miller

Co-published by: The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) and the MIT Press, 2020

The 1939 book Changing New York, by Berenice Abbott, with text by Elizabeth McCausland, is an icon of American documentary photography and the career-defining publication by one of modernism’s most prominent photographers. Yet no one has ever seen the book that Abbott and McCausland actually planned and wrote. Here, for the first time, their original manuscript for Changing New York is recreated by sequencing Abbott’s one hundred photographs with McCausland’s astonishing caption texts. This reconstruction is accompanied by a selection of archival documents that illuminate how the project was developed, and how it was drastically altered by its publisher. Author Sarah M. Miller analyzes the original manuscript and its revisions to unearth Abbott and McCausland’s critical engagement with New York City’s built environment and their unique theory of documentary photography. The battle over Changing New York, she argues, stemmed from disputes over how Abbott’s photographs—and photography more broadly—should shape urban experience on the eve of the futuristic 1939 World’s Fair. Ultimately it became a contest over the definition of documentary itself. Gary Van Zante and Julia Van Haaften contribute an essay on Abbott’s archive and the partnership with McCausland that shaped their creative collaboration.

Winner of the 2021 Photography Network Book Prize
"The documentation of Abbott and McCausland’s original vision, and how that vision was muted and reworked by its publisher and federal sponsors, is both enraging and revelatory, and Miller’s commentary gives bold insight into how the project as it was originally intended articulated a new theory of documentary photography."

Winner of the CAA's 2022 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for Smaller Museums, Libraries, Collections and Exhibitions

Documentary in Dispute: The Original Manuscript of Changing New York by Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland can be purchased in person at The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) and online here.

Orange book cover with words "The Birth of the Idea of Photography"
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The front cover of The Birth of the Idea of Photography. 

The Birth of the Idea of Photography
By: François Brunet 
Translated by: Shane B. Lillis

Co-published by: The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) and the MIT Press, 2019

Half synthesis and half essay, François Brunet’s seminal book, translated into English for the first time, is devoted to the invention and history of photography as the birth of an idea rather than of a new type of image. This idea of photography combines a logical or semiological theme—that of an art without artistry—and the democratic political promise of an art for all. Officially endorsed by the 1839 French law on the daguerreotype, this idea reverberated throughout the nineteenth century. The book shows how emerging image technologies and practices in France and Britain were linked to this logical/political construction of photography, from the earliest research of Nicéphore Niépce, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, and William Henry Fox Talbot up to the turn of the twentieth century. The parallel development of the Kodak camera and Alfred Stieglitz’s “straight” vision in the United States then fulfilled (while also depreciating) the utopian promise of a photography for all. This history reached a provisional climax with reflections on the medium by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hippolyte Taine, Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson, and Charles Sanders Peirce—reflections that both demonstrated the utter novelty of photography and forecast many later debates on its technology and aesthetics.

The Birth of the Idea of Photography can be purchased in person at The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) and online here.

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The front cover of The Eye of History: When Images Take Positions

The Eye of History: When Images Take Positions
By: Georges Didi-Huberman

Co-published by: The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) and the MIT Press, 2018

From 1938 to 1955, German playwright Bertolt Brecht filled his working journal (Arbeitsjournal) and an idiosyncratic atlas of images, War Primer, with montages of war photographs and texts clipped from magazines, adding his own commentary. In The Eye of History: When Images Take Positions, acclaimed French theorist and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman explores the interaction of politics and aesthetics in Brecht’s creations, explaining how they became his means for “taking a position” about the Nazi war in Europe. This book represents the second volume in The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) books series, co-published with the MIT Press.

The Eye of History: When Images Take Positions can be purchased in person at The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) and online here.

The front cover of the book
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  The front cover of The "Public Life" of Photographs

The "Public" Life of Photographs
Edited by: Thierry Gervais

Co-published by: The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) and the MIT Press, 2016

Do we understand a photograph differently if we encounter it in a newspaper rather than a book? In a photo album as opposed to framed on a museum wall? The “Public” Life of Photographs explores how the various ways that photographs have been made available to the public have influenced their reception. The reproducibility of photography has been the necessary tool in the creation of a mass visual culture. This generously illustrated book explores historical instances of the “public” life of photographic images—tracing the steps from the creation of photographs to their reception.

The contributors—international curators and scholars from a range of disciplines—examine the emergence of photography as mass culture: through studios and public spaces; by the press; through editorial strategies promoting popular and vernacular photography; and through the dissemination of photographic images in the art world. The contributing authors discuss such topics as how photographic images became objects of appropriation and collection; the faith in photographic truthfulness; Life magazine’s traveling exhibitions and their effect on the magazine’s “media hegemony”; and the curatorial challenges of making vernacular photographs accessible in an artistic environment.

The "Public" Life of Photographs can be purchased at The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre) and online here

Contributors: Geoffrey Batchen, Nathalie Boulouch, Heather Diack, André Gunthert, Sophie Hackett, Vincent Lavoie, Olivier Lugon, Mary Panzer, Joel Snyder

An interior page from The "Public Life" of Photographs
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  A page from The "Public" Life of Photographs

Another interior page from The "Public Life" of Photographs
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   A page from The "Public" Life of Photographs