Looking to the present, looking to the past - 1

Event info

This first, of a three-part series, led by Colin Pantall, consists of eight lectures. It 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 series comes in three parts, each consisting of eight lectures, and all with the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues arising. The first series 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 final part will look at specific areas of practice within photography, from representation of the body to the photobook and archive to the family album and the body.

The series is ideal for anybody who seeks to understand how images are made and understood. It will enrich your own understanding of how images are read, and will also add layers to how you make your own images. If you have never studied photography, these lectures will give you a fast track introduction to how we can think about images, and how our visual histories can be opened up to global images and ideas. If you have studied photography, it will present new ideas and possibilities that will refresh your views 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, consisting of a 90 minute illustrated lecture and 30 minutes for questions and discussion.

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

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

We will look at the idea of photography as a witness. From the earliest conflict photography to contemporary representations of war.  The 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. 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.

Series 1 will run on Wednesdays @ 1800-2000 on 9, 16, 23 30 September and 7, 14, 21, 28 October 2020, subject to a minimum number of attendees. 

Details of how to access the series will be circulated one week before the first lecture. 

Details of Series 2 which will run Wednesdays @1800-2000 on 18, 25 November; 2, 9 December 2020; 6, 13, 20, 27 January 2021 and Series 3 which will run Wednesdays @1800 on 17, 24 February, 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 March, 7 April 2021 will be available shortly. Lectures will also be available to book individually, although we encourage you to attend each series.

Event Organiser

Dr 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 arranged or a pro-rata refund made. No responsibility is accepted for any consequential losses.



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