Looking at Photography: a lecture series with Colin Pantall

Event info

This course has been postponed as there were insufficient registrants to allow it to run

Are you looking to develop your own practice? Do you want to understand what photography is or can be? This 8-week course will introduce you to the contemporary practice of photography through examples that link the historical, the contemporary, and the theoretical in a way that is dynamic, visual, and accessible to everybody.

Touching on major photographic genres such as landscape photography, portraiture, and conflict, it will look at some of the key photographers and ideas that have shaped how we see the world today and will also present a global, pluralist outlook on both the wonderful expressive and artistic qualities of the photographic image, as well as its darker side.

The lecture series is the first of three standalone eight-week courses. The first will look at the origins of key photographic genres, where they came from, how they affect the images we make and see today, and how those genres are influenced by different global theories and practices.

The second will look at how social and cultural change in the post-war era influenced photographic practice around the world, and the third will look at specific areas of interest within photography, from representation of the body to the family album and how these ideas can be communicated through different global photographic media.

This series of lectures is ideal for anybody who wants to learn how images are made and understood. It will enrich your understanding of the multiple ways in which images can be read, and will also add layers to how you make images and how you communicate those images to a broader audience. If you have never studied photography, these lectures will give you a fast track introduction to the history of photography and its theory. And if you have studied photography, it will refresh old  ideas and present new possibilities that will refresh your understanding of what photography is and what it can be.

Some Key Photographers mentioned: Anna Atkins, Hoda Afshar, Mohamed Bourouissa, Erwin Blumenfeld, Alejandro Cartagena, Zaharia Cusnir, Hugh Diamond, Rineke Dijkstra, Robert Frank, Amak Mahmoodian, Daido Moriyama, Malick Sidibe, Hashim El Madani, Timothy O’Sullivan, August Sander, Sebastiao Salgado, Jo Spence, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Li Zhensheng… and many  more

Some Key theorists/writers mentioned: Ariella Aisha Azoulay, Roland Barthes, David Chandler, Paul Ekman, Juan Fontcuberta, Erving Goffman, Takuma Nakahira, Wu Hung, Susie Linfield, Audrey Linkman, Bill Nichols, Olu Oguibe, Martha Rosler, Robbie Shilliam, Jo Spence, Janina Struk, John Tagg… and many more

Lecture length: 2 hours  in total (including lecture, readings, and short photo-exercises for students)

Recommended readings: Each lecture will come with recommended reading and viewing on photographers and ideas connected to the series.

Each course of eight lectures can be booked as a whole or individually. Details of Series 2 and 3 will be available shortly.

Series 1

1: The Face – Who does the looking

In this initial lecture we will look at the origins of portrait photography, how the face became the ‘mirror into the soul’, and how power and control have been invested in the person taking the photograph. We will also look at the global nature of photography, and the ways different theories of image, self, and photographic identity emerge from different visual traditions in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

2: Photography as witnessing – What we look at and what we do about it

In this lecture we will look at the idea of photography as a witness. From the earliest conflict photography to contemporary representations of war, this idea of the heroic photographer has always been present. And so have ideas on how photography can be staged, manipulated, and distorted to serve vested domestic and business interests. The lecture will also look at contemporary projects that challenge that idea of the photographer as a witness, that extend the idea of what war photography is and can be.

3: Landscape – Where we look and what we show

Who does the looking matters. What we choose to look at matters too. And so does where you look at, and what we show. This lecture will look at the diverse global origins of landscape photography, examining the idea that the landscape is inherently political and economic in the way that it is and has been portrayed. The lecture will   go beyond the picturesque to look at theories that extend to contemporary surveys of the landscape in representations of environmental issues, climate change, and land ownership. In this lecture what you don’t show matters just as much as what you do.

4: Photography and Travel

This lecture will look at the relationship between photography, anthropology, and travel. It will look at how photography has been used to show distant places (from a European perspective), how ideas of the exotic developed from art and extended into photography, and how this photographic practice extended into a dominant way of viewing the world. And it’s a way of looking that we need to move on from.

5: Photography, documentary and Activism – Looking to change

The end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century brought an explosion in a socially directed humanist activist photography that sought to effect social and political change in Europe, in the USA, and in Africa. Through examples from Australia, Asia, and South America this lecture will examine how effective this change was, the ideas on which this activism was founded, and how these ideas of activist photography have evolved and changed in the years since.

6: Humanist Photography – who’s in a portrait

August Sander’s People of the 20th Century is one of the great photography projects of all time. Consisting of portraits of German citizens organized into different social groupings, it is a project that seeks both to categorise and contain, as well as record the character of the German people in the first half of the twentieth century. This lecture will look at how photographic portraiture categorises, organizes, and socializes people in ways that are both good and bad. It will look at a range of photographers from around the world and how their images captured places, times and diverse political viewpoints through the images they made.

7: Documentary matters – expanding the documentary view

The 1930s saw the birth of documentary film, mass observation, and the early ideas of the documentary view. This lecture will look at those ideas and look at how ideas of documentary have expanded into a plethora of different contemporary forms. It will challenge the idea of documentary as something either objective or rigid, and apply an open perspective of documentary that allows the personal, the subjective, and the uncertain to enter into the debate.

8: Propaganda – in its many guises

This lecture will look at how propaganda developed out of a challenge to communicate ideas clearly and simply to a mass audience in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. It will also examine the overlap between propaganda, advertising and the mass appeals that led both to the horrors of the Second World War, the formation of the People’s Republic of China, and the age of mass advertising.

We do require a minimum number of registrants to run this course. In the event that we do not reach this two weeks before it starts we will provide a full refund. 

Book for the whole series or click the links above for individual lectures.  Your Zoom links will be supplied along with your booking confirmation. 

Event Organiser

Michael Pritchard


Cancellation policy

This is an online event. The RPS will do its best to ensure that the event keeps to the published dates and timings and runs as planned. In the event of technical difficulties, the unforeseen unavailability of speaker(s), or in the unlikely event that the series or part thereof has to be cancelled all participants will be advised at the earliest opportunity. Dates will be re-arranged or a pro-rata refund made. No responsibility is accepted for any consequential losses. 



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