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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 Activities 

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

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)

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.

For further information, please contact:
General Inquiries and Applications: Alexandra Gooding, Research Program Coordinator, ricresearch@ryerson.ca
Collection Inquiries: riccollections@ryerson.ca
Scholarly Inquiries: Dr. Thierry Gervais, Head of Research, gervais@ryerson.ca

The Image Centre Research Fellowships
Applications are now closed for 2022 fellowships.

In 2022, The Image Centre will offer five fellowships for research related to photography:

The Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellowship
This fellowship includes a $10,000 (CAD) stipend for travel, research, and other expenses. Candidates must hold a PhD degree. All proposals will be welcome, but we encourage projects that utilize the collections and resources of The Image Centre and the Toronto Metropolitan University Archives and Special Collections. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at The Image Centre or Archives and Special Collections for a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of three (3) months, between March 14 and December 5, 2022. Changes in scheduling, timing, and duration of the fellowship may be shifted due to COVID-19. 

The Singer Family Doctoral Fellowship
This fellowship includes a $10,000 (CAD) stipend for travel, research, and other expenses. Candidates must hold or be working toward a PhD degree. All proposals will be welcome, but we encourage projects that utilize the collections and resources of The Image Centre and the Toronto Metropolitan University Archives and Special Collections. Special consideration may be given to fulfill specific research goals. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at The Image Centre or Archives and Special Collections for a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of three (3) months, between March 14 and December 5, 2022. Changes in scheduling, timing, and duration of the fellowship may be shifted due to COVID-19.

The Wendy Snyder MacNeil Research Fellowship
This fellowship includes a $2,500 (CAD) stipend for travel, research, and other expenses. It is intended to support new perspectives on Wendy Snyder MacNeil’s work and archive, either as a principal subject of investigation or as a point of departure for related research. Candidates must hold or be working toward a master's degree. Candidates’ research should utilize the collections and resources of The Image Centre or the Toronto Metropolitan University Archives and Special Collections. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at The Image Centre or Archives and Special Collections for a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of four (4) weeks, between March 14 and December 5, 2022. Changes in scheduling, timing, and duration of the fellowship may be shifted due to COVID-19. 

The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship
This fellowship includes a $2,500 (CAD) stipend for travel, research, and other expenses. Candidates must hold or be working toward a master's degree or be independent artists and scholars with equivalent experience and demonstrated interests. Candidates’ research should utilize the collections and resources of The Image Centre or the Toronto Metropolitan University Archives and Special Collections. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at The Image Centre or Archives and Special Collections for a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of four (4) weeks, between March 14 and December 5, 2022. Changes in scheduling, timing, and duration of the fellowship may be shifted due to COVID-19.

The Elaine Ling Fellowship
This fellowship includes a $2,500 (CAD) stipend for travel, research, and other expenses. Candidates must hold or be working toward a master's degree. Candidates’ research should utilize the collections and resources of The Image Centre or the Toronto Metropolitan University Archives and Special Collections. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at The Image Centre or Archives and Special Collections for a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of four (4) weeks, between March 14 and December 5, 2022. Changes in scheduling, timing, and duration of the fellowship may be shifted due to COVID-19.

Applications are now closed for 2022 fellowships.

 The application must include the following:

1.     A project proposal (approximately 1,000 words) that outlines the subject, the originality of the research, its foundation in Toronto Metropolitan University’s collections, and the applicant’s scholarly abilities to address the subject. The first line of the proposal must indicate which fellowship(s) the applicant is seeking.

2.     Curriculum Vitae.

3.     One sample of written work (20 pages maximum). Independent artists submitting to the Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship may submit a previous film or video work (10 minutes long maximum) in lieu of a writing sample. 

These first three components must be gathered in one PDF document titled: FirstnameLastname2022-Application.PDF. If film or video is being submitted instead of a written sample, a link to download the video should be included in the body of the email containing the PDF application.

4.     One letter of recommendation from someone in a position to characterize the applicant’s scholarly abilities. The letter should be emailed directly from the referee to ricresearch@ryerson.ca before the application deadline. (Please indicate in the subject line: Reference for The Image Centre 2022 Fellowship Applicant [full name of applicant]. Please title the letter document: FirstnameLastname2022-Reference.PDF)

View the complete guidelines for the fellowship application, including eligibility and selection process, or download the pdf version.

2022 The Image Centre Research Fellows

View all previous fellows

The Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellowship
Dr. Audrey Sands

Audrey Sands is a photography curator and historian. She holds a PhD in the history of art from Yale University where she completed a dissertation on the photographer Lisette Model. From 2019 to 2022, she was the Norton Family Assistant Curator of Photography at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) in Tucson, Arizona, a joint appointment with the Phoenix Art Museum, where her exhibitions included a major retrospective of social documentarian Marion Palfi and a survey of postwar Japanese photography. She has held positions in curatorial departments at numerous museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Sands has received numerous fellowships, grants, and awards, including the Henry Luce/ACLS Fellowship in American Art, the Canadian Photography Institute Fellowship, the Tyson Scholarship from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Joan and Stanford Alexander Award presented by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Predoctoral Fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA). She currently holds a Curatorial Fellowship from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Abstract
"FLASH! The Shape of Light: History, Ethics, and Aesthetics of Flash Photography"

FLASH! The Shape of Light: History, Ethics, and Aesthetics of Flash Photography examines over 150 years of global visual output from across a range of disparate fields deploying flash light in photography, from the earliest experiments with the medium through the present day, to consider the history, ethics, and aesthetics of this understudied but ubiquitous visual technique. Throughout photography’s history, practitioners have experimented with means of creating portable, instantaneous sources of illumination in order to capture spaces, scenes, and movements that might otherwise remain invisible. Liberating the camera from the constraints and vicissitudes of natural light, flash technologies produce a unique set of aesthetics entirely distinct from that of available-light photography. Flash and strobe illumination have advanced the quest for evidentiary truth, revelation, and the transcendence of embodied vision. These motivating factors have driven nearly two centuries of technological innovation, expanding the frontiers of our knowledge and inspiring artistic expression. Today these technologies are folded into all areas of photography, without second thought, by everyone from professional image-makers to casual camera-phone users. Through extensive archival research, conversations with artists and researchers, a scholarly colloquium, and ultimately a traveling exhibition, this multi-year project sets out to explore the work of photographers who have used flash as a defining practice.

The Singer Family Doctoral Fellowship
Maura McCreight

Maura McCreight is a PhD candidate in art history at The Graduate Center, CUNY, with a focus on the history of photography and art of the Middle East and North Africa. She holds an MA and an advanced graduate certificate in philosophy and the arts from Stony Brook University. Her dissertation retraces photographs of women during the Algerian War for Independence (1954–1962) using methods that demonstrate the conflict’s scattered visual archival existence. She is a lecturer in the art departments of Brooklyn College and Bronx Community College and has taught at the New York Institute of Technology. She is a member of the Photography Network and the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS). Her essay and curatorial project on movement between North Africa and Europe was published in Life Goes On: New Media Art 2022 by CICA Press.

Abstract
“Black Star and the Algerian War for Independence (1954–1962)” 

This research examines photojournalism and reportage of the Algerian War for Independence (1954–1962) in the Black Star Collection. Rarely does research of the Algerian War observe how the language of photography and visual representations of women influence the perception of the war, both on the ground in Algeria and to a global audience. This study treats images of women in diverse roles, pictured by Black Star photographers Dominique Berretty and Charles Bonnay, as direct objects of the conflict’s history. Algerian and European women played a pivotal role in challenging colonial control as combatants of the Front de libération nationale (FLN), nurses, educators, community organizers, photographers, and journalists. On the other hand, women of the same ethnic identity steadfastly promoted a French Algeria, while others fell somewhere in between. Berretty’s freelance work for Paris Match and Life magazines during the Algerian War includes photographs in a range of everyday environments circumstantial to colonialism and decolonial struggle, such as women wearing haïks (white veiled garments that cover the entire body) carrying shopping bags next to surveilling French army officers, and riots in the streets with veiled and unveiled women waving handmade Algerian flags. Bonnay’s coverage of the far-right Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) for Time and Life presents images of women on both sides of the conflict, and his photographs of Berber (Amazigh) women trekking through their homelands offer a less commonly circulated wartime representation. By retracing these photographs of women from the Black Star Collection, this project aims to understand how Berretty and Bonnay’s work speaks to the image environments of the 1950s and ‘60s, and the ways circulation, reportage, and representations of gender steered the Algerian War and, by extension, its broader visual history.

The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship
Juan Andrés Bello

Juan Andrés Bello is a documentary researcher and producer who explores the use of visual and textual archival materials for storytelling purposes. Over the last two decades, his practice has included subjects such as architecture, history, cultural heritage, and human rights. His portfolio includes independent films, projects commissioned by TV networks, and digital resources and exhibitions for museums and cultural institutions. His work has been exhibited at specialized film festivals, including the Festival International du Film sur L´Art (FIFA) in Montreal. Villanueva, The Devil, his documentary about the Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was included in the exhibition A Tale of Two Worlds, at the Museum Für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt and the Museo de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires. His latest project, The Chalatenango Massacres, documents the crimes committed by the Salvadoran army and paramilitary groups against peasant communities at the outset of the country’s Civil War (1980–1992), and was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the London Arts Council. He is also a lecturer in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. 

Abstract
“The Salvadoran Civil War (1980–1992) in the Black Star Collection”  

This project will explore the coverage of the Salvadoran Civil War (1980–1992) in the Black Star Collection, searching for photographic evidence of key historical events, the armed conflict, forced migration, and human rights violations. At the time, war photographers played an essential role in raising international awareness of the confrontation in Central America, and in some cases their images constitute the only material evidence of the atrocities that were perpetrated. This investigation aims to place these photographs into a narrative by using the existing metadata, academic sources, interviews with the photographers, and in consultation with community historians in El Salvador. The final goal is to develop a strategy with organizations in Canada and El Salvador to present these images to the Salvadoran diaspora and the communities where they were produced. Doing this creates an opportunity for retrieving and preserving memories in connection with these historical events, in an effort to prevent something similar from happening again.

The Elaine Ling Fellowship
Walsh Millette

Walsh Millette is interested in visual and textual documentary media as they relate to travel, journey, walking, and exploration. Walsh first entered art history and criticism through his own art practice, having completed a BFA at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is currently an MA candidate in art history and archaeology at Columbia University, New York, where he studies late nineteenth and early twentieth century photography and painting and their intermedial interactions in greater East Asia. Walsh returned to the US, his home country, in 2020 after obtaining an MA in Chinese history as a Yenching Fellow and Chinese Government Scholar at Peking University, Beijing, China. His work there traced the photographic journaling and surveying of archaeologist-explorer Sir Marc Aurel Stein in early-twentieth-century Kashmir, British India and Xinjiang, China. Walsh is a practicing photographer, writer, and collage artist.

Abstract
“Creating Space: Elaine Ling in Mongolia, on the Steppe and in the Yurt”

Photographer Elaine Ling (Canadian, born China, 1946–2016) traveled to Mongolia five separate times between 2002 and 2008. The images she created there of the windblown steppe, the Gobi Desert, and of other travelers, too—nomadic families and herdsmen—encapsulate the great vastness of southern Mongolia’s sparse natural landscape. This project explores exactly that: the wild emptiness and openness of geographic space captured on film. What are the correlations between, on the one hand, real space sensed and perceived out in the world, and, on the other, negative space deployed by the photographer in a carefully chosen, framed, and crafted image? How does geographic space transform into aesthetic space? And what are the ways in which a photographer works with space to achieve aesthetic interest or affect? How do the geographic and poetic imaginaries interact? The relationship between photographer and environment takes center stage as this project aims to unravel the myriad ways in which we interact with, perceive, and then represent physical, geographic space in landscape photography.

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.

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