History of Photography

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Course Information
Art History
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 



This course covers the history of photography from its beginning in 1839 through the present day. In addition to understanding how the techniques and uses of photography have developed over time, the course examines the role of the printed image, both as an art form and as a document that depicts the historical, political and socioeconomic movements in Paris and other parts of the world. In order to understand the different forms and uses of photographic expression, the course examines works by artists such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman, Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, etc. Site visits to galleries and museums in Paris are also an integral part of the course.

Attendance policy: 

Attendance is mandatory. Please note that absences and tardies will prevent you from fully understanding the material of the course and lowers your final grade. In case of illness, please alert your professor and the academics coordinator.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students are able to:

  • Understand the medium of photography and the theoretical debates that surrounded it throughout history;
  • Recognize images from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries;
  • Appreciate the important historical, artistic and esthetic developments in photography;
  • Develop a critical eye for photography and awareness of the various styles and forms of expression.
Method of presentation: 

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Look at photography in a new way
  • Understand the history of the medium of photography and its numerous theoretic debates
  • Recognize numerous images concerning the 19th, 20th and 21st century's additions to photography
  • Develop the ability to critique individual works
  • Understand the major historical, artistic, and aesthetic landmarks of the medium
  • Recognize the function of several personalities in the photography movement


Field study: 

Five required excursions are organized during the semester. These visits are held outside of the course hours. You are required to bring your student card.

  • Musée du Jeu de Paume (1, place de la Concorde 75008 – Station Métro : Concorde) : Kati Horna
  • Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (2, Impasse Lebouis 75014 à côté d’IES) : William Egglestone
  • Musée Carnavalet (16, rue des Francs-Bourgeois 75003 – Station Métro : Saint Paul) : Paris libéré, Paris photographié, Paris exposé
  • Musée du Jeu de Paume (1, place de la Concorde 75008 – Station Métro : Concorde) : Gary Winogrand
  • Maison Européenne de la Photographie (5/7, rue de Fourcy 75004 – Station Métro : Saint Paul ou Pont Marie) : programme encore non communiqué

Conference: As an option, students may go with the professor to a conference held by the Musée du Jeu de Paume entitled: "Diffusion et développements de la photographie".

Required work and form of assessment: 
  • In-class Exams (Midterm and Final) - 40%
  • Photo Book - 20%
  • Oral Presentation - 20%
  • Attendance, Class Participation and Visits - 20%



Readings and Visits

Session 1 Course overview and expectations  
Session 2 Introduction: Before photography, the time of the Lumière Machines. Since the beginning of time, man has felt the need to reproduce the real. Confronted by the difficulty of drawing and representing with our own hands, we have come to invent imaging machines like the camera obscura. At the same time in the world of chemistry, the effects of light on certain chemical products were continually being studied. At time in the start of the 19th century, the industry, techniques, and vocabulary of photography developed and began to evolve and affect the French society. td>

Recommended Reading : Bajac, Quentin, "L'image révélée. L'invention de la photographie", Gallimard 2001 ; BRUNET, François, La Naissance de l’idée de photographie, PUF, 2000.

Visit 1 : Musée du Jeu de Paume

Session 3

Chose your book for the oral summary

1839, Year Zero of Photography (techniques and the first photographs) It’s during this age of invention that the first form of photography appears, the Dageuerréotype. It was the shared effort of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and Jacques Louis Mandé Daguerre. Their new inventrion was presented to The Académie of sciences of Paris in 1839. The Daguerréotype used a process of transferring an image onto a metal plate so that it could be later used to reproduce the image multiple times.

Recommended Reading : Dictionnaire mondial de la photographie, Larousse, 1994.
Session 4

Chose your group : Prep session for the photo books

Photography Workshops in Paris. Portrait photographers opened workshops throughout countries in the western world and especially on the busy boulevards of Paris. There were, for example, 50 workshops in 1840 in Paris, 400 in London in 1860, and 200 in New York by 1856. These workshops were often opened by painters who began to work in photography as well. Photographic portraits benefited the bourgeois class who could not afford a painted portrait, but wanted to use the photograph as a symbol of their upward movement in social circles. By 1849, more than 100,000 people had had their photo taken in the photo studios in Paris.

Mandatory Reading : A. Rouillé, La Photographie en France, Livret de cours, p.1-12.

Recommended Reading : SAGNE, Jean, L’Atelier du photographe 1840-1940, Presses de la Renaissance, 1998.

Session 5 The Reproduction of Portraits. The market for portraits expands, bringing considerable economic success for photographers.

Recommended Reading : Mary, Bertrand, La Photo sur la cheminée, Métailié, 1993.

Recommended Reading : Amar, Pierre-Jean, Histoire de la photographie, PUF, 1997.

Recommended Reading : Masanès, Fabrice, Eugène Disdéri Essai sur l’art de la photographie, Séguier, 2003.

Visit 2 : Fondation HCB

Session 6

Start of oral presentations and photo books

Photos as a document: the photography of explorers and tourists. Other commercial activities linked to photography developed, such as the sales of cameras, sales of prints and lithographs and ticket sales for exhibitions. In addition, photos of monuments and foreign landscapes create the post card trade that remains strong in France to this day.

Mandatory Reading : Ch. Baudelaire, Le Public moderne de la photographie, Livret de cours, p.13-15.

Recommended Reading : Frizot, Michel, Nouvelle Histoire de la photographie, Bordas, 1994.

Session 7 An objective Medium (1860-1900) Industry, Police, Medicine, Astronomy… Archaeologists, anthropologists, and zoologists began using photography to aide their research. The French government saw photography as a way to document and share all that France has to offer as well as the technological advances coming from the country.

Recommended Reading : Rosenblum, Naomi, Une Histoire mondiale de la photographie, Abbeville Press, 1992.

Recommended Reading : Frizot, Michel, Nouvelle Histoire de la photographie, op. cit.

Session 8 10 A particular case: the representation of Paris in the 19th and the beginning of 20th century. During this period Paris was the capital of the arts and sciences. All subjects are covered by photography and the city gains a cult status for its photographers. Between myth and reality, photography helps us to uncover the political and social life of the era. It also shows the daily life of a changing city being transformed by the urban projects of Baron Haussmann.

Mandatory Reading : La photographie est-elle un art ?, Livret de cours, p.16-17.

Recommended Reading : Crary, Jonathan, L’Art de l’observateur. Vision et modernité au XIXème siècle, Jacqueline Chambon, 1998.

Recommended Reading : Beaumont-Maillet, Paris-Atget, Hazan, 2003.

Visite 3 : Musée Carnavalet (10h)

Session 9 The spread of the photographic image and the development of the press. Westerners have a new need for information, a different way of attaining knowledge is offered; photography. Photography and printing : the spread continues with the development of the media and the facts are recounted with photographs taken quickly. This is the case for the Commune de Paris. The half-tone engraving, texts and images are being printed at the same time as a newspaper or in a book. Recommended Reading : Frizot, Michel, Nouvelle Histoire de la photographie, op. cit.
Session 10 Is photography an art ? (1860-1910). The question of the status of photography of the 19th century is at the heart of artistic debates in Paris. Does its value come as a work of art, as a way to capture the spirit of its subject, or merely as a machine?

Mandatory Reading : E. Disdéri, Essai sur l’art de la photographie, Livret de cours, p.18-33.

Recommended Reading : Scharf, Aaron, Art and Photography, Penguin Books, 1968.

Recommended Reading : Deren Coke, Franck Van, The Painter and the Photograph From Delacroix to Warhol, University of New Mexico, 1972.

Recommended Reading : Billeter, Erika, Malerei und photographie im dialog, Benteli, 1979.

Recommended Reading : Rouillé, André, La Photographie en France : Textes et controverses, une anthologie 1816-1871, Macula, 1988.

Conference : Musée du jeu de paume

Session 11 Mid-Term  
Session 12

Exam revisions

Pictorialism: Natural vision and symbolistic image in English and French Pictorialism. History and paramaters of pictorialism, an artistic means of using photography to create an image similar to the impressionistic style of painting.

Mandatory Reading : Lewis Hine, Sur la photographie sociale & R. Emerson Stryker, Livret de cours, p.47-56.

Recommended Reading : Poivert, Michel, Le Pictorialisme en France, Hoëbeke, 1992.

Session 13

Photo-book : select your photos to drop off, 500KB maximum

The debut of color photography : Color photography appeared progressively. Research started in the 18th centrury led to the creation of the Kodachrome in 1935 by Kodak. This 35mm film required a chemical treatment only available in the Kodak labs. This led to color photography becoming available to everyone. Improvements to the film and the Ektachrome treatment process followed leading to the creation of the Polacolor instant camera by Polaroid in 1963.

Recommended Reading : Amar, Pierre-Jean, L’ABCédaire de la photographie, Flammarion, 2003.

Visit 4 : Musée du Jeu de Paume

Session 14 Modernism: Constructivism of Moholy-Nagy and Surrealism of Man Ray I. In artistic movements like Russian Constructivism, German Bauhaus and Italian Futurism, photography becomes well regarded as an art. The Dadaists and surrealists integrate photography in their work as well.

Mandatory Reading : Pratiques de photographes & La Photo, langage modern, Livret de cours p.57-59.

Recommended Reading : idem.

Recommended Reading : Krauss, Rosalind, Le Photographique. Pour une théorie des écarts, Macula, 2000.

Session 15 Photography at the time of the avant-gardes : new techniques and vision for the artistic scene. Continuation and end of discussion on photography between the wars. Mandatory Reading : W. Benjamin, L’œuvre d’art à l’époque de sa reproduction technique, Livret de cours, p.60-75.
Session 16 Social documentation up to 1945: Photography in US and Europe I. The photograph becomes a true means of information in a transformed industrial and sociopolitical context. The themes of art and propaganda become equally important, as both are used in journalism and cinema.

Recommended Reading : Lemagny, Jean-Claude, Rouillé, André, Histoire de la photographie, Bordas, 1993.

Recommended Reading : Lugon, Olivier, Le Style documentaire d’August Sander à Walker Evans 1920-1945, Macula, 2001.

Session 17 Social documentation up to 1945: Photography in US and Europe II.

Mandatory Reading : H. Damisch, Cinq notes pour une phénoménologie de l’image photographique, Livret de cours, p.76-77.

Recommended Reading : Bourdieu, Pierre, Un Art moyen, essai sur les usages sociaux de la photographie, Minuit, 1965.

Recommended Reading : Freund, Gisèle, Photographie et société, Seuil, 1974.

Session 18 Words and Image: Photograpy and the press 1920-2001. Photojournalism of news and fashion is at the heart of Parisian cultural practices. The magazine Vu created in 1928 by Lucien Vogel created the style of fashion photography used today. It inspired Henry Luce, who created Life in 1936. Magazines like Paris Match, Vogue, or Harper’s Bazaar influence all others since the 1920s. Finally, photography explodes in advertising Today, publicity is the principal means of financing for the press, representing more than 70% of press agencies’ income.

Recommended Reading: Freund, Gisèle, op. cit.

Recommended Reading : Rosenblum, Naomi, Une Histoire mondiale de la photographie, op. cit.

Session 19 Photography in journalism after the war and the representation of 20th century Paris. Contemporary photographers were less interested by Paris’ architecture, and more so by its residents (Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis). This photography shows us an unedited sociological view of French society of the 20th century.

Mandatory Reading : Willy Ronis & Irving Penn, Livret de cours, p.83-90.

Recommended Reading : Doisneau, Robert, Doisneau-Paris, Flammarion, 2006.

Recommended Reading : Coll. La Photographie humaniste 1945-1968, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 2006.

Visit 5 : Maison Européenne de la Photographie

Session 20

Photo-books due

Pure Photography : The artistic practice since 1950. After the 2nd World War, the border between photography and other arts has practically disappeared. Warhol, Rauschenberg, Hockney or the New Realists in France often mixed media.

Recommended Reading : Vanlier, Henri, Histoire photographique de la photographie, Les Cahiers de la photographie, 1992.
Session 21 The contemporary artistic practice I. From today's conceptual artists using photography to question the depiction of reality (Boltanski) or to register their ephemeral tasks (Christo). Currently, conceptual photography revolves around the European and American postmodernism critique that has an emblematic look (Cindy Sherman).

Recommended Reading : Histoire de la photographie de 1839 à nos jours, Taschen, 2000.

Recommended Reading : Cat. Cindy Sherman, Flammarion, 2006.

Session 22 The contemporary artistic practice II. Recommended Reading : idem.
Session 23

Review session and Exam prep

Last class devoted to review. The course will culminate with the essay by Roland Barthes La Chambre claire.

Recommended Reading : Schaffer, Jean-Marie, L’image précaire. Du dispositif photographique, Seuil, 1987.

Recommended Reading : Dubois, Philippe, L’Acte photographique, Nathan, 1992.

Session 24 Final Exam  


Required readings: 

Choose a work in the below list for your oral report that you will read in class (10 to 15 minutes).  Certain reference works will no longer be found in stores but they will be in the library, most likely in the library of the Maison Européenne de la photographie, 5/7 rue de Fourcy 75004 Paris (open daily from 11-8, except Mondays, Tuesdays and Holidays). You can also borrow these works from your neighborhood city library.

  • Barthes, Roland, La Chambre claire. Note sur la photographie, Gall./Seuil, 1980.
  • Boulouch, Nathalie, Le Ciel est bleu Une histoire de la photo couleur, Textuel, 2011.
  • Brassaï, Conversations avec Picasso, Gallimard, 1964.
  • Chardin, Virginie & Modiano, Patrick, Paris et la photographie…, Parigramme, 2013.
  • Chassey, Eric De, Platitudes : Une histoire de la photographie plate, Gallimard, 2006.
  • Coll., Controverses. Une histoire juridique et éthique de la photo, Actes Sud, 2008.
  • Cotton, Ch. & Saint-Jean, P., La Photo dans l’art contemp, Thames&Hudson, 2005.
  • Denoyelle, F, Photo d’actualité et de propagande sous le rég de Vichy, CNRS, 2003.
  • Dubois, Phil., L’Acte photographique et autres essais, Nathan, 1990 (unavailble at the library).
  • Durand, Régis, Le Regard pensif. Lieux et objets de la photo., La Différence, 1990.
  • Gervais, P. & MOREL, G., La Photo : Histoires, techn, art, presse, Larousse, 2008.
  • Jaeger, Anne-Cél, La Photographie contemporaine par ceux que la font, T&H, 2008.
  • Koetzle, Hans-Michael, 50 Photo Icons L’hist derrière les images, Taschen, 2002.
  • —, Photographes A-Z, Taschen, 2011.
  • Krauss, Rosalind, Le Photographique. Pour une théorie des écarts, Mucula, 1990.
  • Lugon, Olivier, Le Style documentaire. D’A. Sander à W. Evans, Macula, 2001.
  • Mary, Bertrand, La Photo sur la cheminée, Métailié, 1993 (unavailble at the library).
  • Mora, Gilles, Petit lexique de la photographie, Abbeville, 1998.
  • Nadar, Félix, Quand j’étais photographe, Seuil, 1994.
  • Poivert, Michel, Hippolyte Bayard, Nathan, 2001.
  • -—, La Photographie contemporaine, Flammarion, 2009.
  • Rouille, André, La Photo : Entre document et art contemporain, Gallimard, 2005.
  • Schaeffer, J-Marie, L’image précaire. Du dispositif photographique, Seuil, 1987.
  • Soulages, François, Esthétique de la photographie, Armand Colin, 2005.
  • Van Lier, Henri, Philosophie de la photographie, Les Cahiers de la photo., 1983.
  • —, Histoire photographique de la photographie, Les Cahiers de la photo, 1992.