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Research is a central part of the Ryerson 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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Collections Curator Denise Birkhofer with a selection of collection materials in the RIC's Peter Higdon Research Centre

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A summer intern with collections materials in the RIC's Peter Higdon Research Centre


Research Activities 

Research is a central part of the Ryerson 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 RIC fosters artist projects related to its collections. The RIC also supports research through teaching, workshops, symposia, publications, scholarly and artist fellowships, as well as institutional partnerships. Through these endeavours, the RIC has become an international hub for research about photography, welcoming established and emerging academics, as well as students. These scholarly activities have provided the Ryerson 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 RIC 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 RIC has also organized four symposia, bringing together more than sixty international scholars. 



Since launching in 2012, the RIC 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 Ryerson 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)


Research fellows have the opportunity to study select areas of the RIC’s photography collections first-hand. These include the acclaimed Black Star Collection of photo-reportage, with over a quarter-million prints spanning the 20th century; historic and fine art photography collection; and several archives devoted to the life and work of a diverse group of photographers, including Werner Wolf, Jo Spence, Wendy Snyder MacNeil, and Berenice Abbott.

For further information, please contact:
General Inquiries and Applications: Rachel Verbin, Research Program Associate: rverbin@ryerson.ca
Collection Inquiries: riccollections@ryerson.ca
Scholarly Inquiries: Dr. Thierry Gervais, Head of Research: gervais@ryerson.ca

Please check back soon for details about the 2021 Fellowships.

RIC Research Fellowships

The 2020 Call for Research Fellows is now closed. 

All proposals are welcome, but we encourage projects that utilize the collections and resources of the Ryerson Image Centre and the Ryerson University Archive and Library Special Collections. Fellows are expected to carry out their research at the RIC a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of three (3) months, between January 28 and December 4, 2020.

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. 

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.  

The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship
This fellowship includes a $2,000 (CAD) stipend for travel, research, and other expenses. Candidates must hold or be working toward an MA degree.  

The Elaine Ling Fellowship
This fellowship includes a $2,000 (CAD) stipend for travel, research, and other expenses. Candidates must hold or be working toward an MA degree. 

Applications must be sent to Thierry Gervais via email c/o Rachel Verbin at rverbin@ryerson.ca no later than November 8, 2019 by 5:00 pm EST. The application must include the following:

1/ A project proposal (approx. 1,000 words), which outlines the subject, originality of the research, its foundation in Ryerson 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).

These first three components must be gathered in one (1) PDF document titled: FirstnameLastname2020-Application.PDF

4/ One letter of recommendation from someone in a position to characterize the applicant’s scholarly abilities. (The letter should be emailed directly to rverbin@ryerson.ca by the referee before the application deadline. Please include: Reference for RIC 2019 Fellowship Applicant (full name of applicant) in the email subject line and please title the document: FirstnameLastname2020-Reference.PDF

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

2020 RIC Research Fellows

View all previous fellows

The Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellowship
Dr. Naeem Mohaiemen
PhD in Anthropology, Columbia University

Naeem Mohaiemen combines essays, films, and installations to research incomplete decolonizations and world socialism. He is author of Midnight’s Third Child (Nokta, 2020) and Prisoners of Shothik Itihash (Kunsthalle Basel, 2014); editor of Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Blind Spot of Bangladesh Nationalism (Drishtipat, 2010); co-editor (w/ Eszter Szakacs) of Solidarity Must be Defended (Tranzit, 2020), and co-editor (w/ Lorenzo Fusi) of System Error: War is a Force that Gives us Meaning (Sylvana, 2007). He received a PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University (2019).


“Harmit Singh’s War” 

Trained as an architect, Harmit Singh (1941-2017) became a professional photographer while working as an architect for a UN reconstruction project in Kenya, then newly independent from British rule. He left architecture and returned to India to be a photojournalist in the mid-60s. In 1971, he was sent by a photo agency to cover the war that split Pakistan into two countries–Pakistan and Bangladesh. By the time the war ended, Singh was altered by the experience of photographing the refugee camps, mass graves, and emaciated prisoners of war. He resigned from Black Star and left photojournalism, traveling the world for the rest of his life with an old Leica camera. It was while clearing his belongings after his death that his daughter discovered a collection of Bangladesh slides. The war broke Singh’s will to document history; posthumously we glean his work as straddling the conjuncture of two refugee eras.

Singer Family Doctoral Fellowship
Dr. Gwynne Fulton
Visiting Researcher at Milieux Institute (Montreal)

Gwynne Fulton is an image theorist and film programmer based between Tio’tia:ke/Montreal and Brussels. Her research at the intersection of critical phenomenology and visual culture, focuses on questions of violence and political power. Fulton holds a PhD in Philosophy, Art History and Curatorial Practice from Concordia University (2019). She was a visiting doctoral researcher at the Centre for Research for Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) at Kingston University in London and a Fulbright Curatorial Fellow at Slought Foundation in Philadelphia. She has published in Mosaic Journal, In/Visible Culture, Esse and Dazibao editions and has organized film programs about the carceral state, illegalized migration and the targeted killing of social leaders in Colombia. She is currently a Visiting Researcher at Milieux Institute in Montreal.


“Burning Times: Legacies of Black Radicalism in the Black Star Collection”

This research project examines the ways acts of rioting and revolt have been visualized in the Ryerson Image Centre’s Black Star Collection. It critically addresses the visual cultures of the “riot”—a term that must itself be problematized. Images of Watts and Detroit ablaze spread across the pages of Time and Life magazines throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These iconic images burn to remember, but in burning, they effect a kind of erasure of the everyday violence that forms the background of black social life in the United States. The riot emerges not only as a political problem, but as an aesthetic one. Dominant representational structures tend to reinforce narratives of the riot as a space of violent black masculinity in a state of exception. To unsettle this narrative, this project scavenges RIC’s archives for images of urban rebellion in the Black Power era, with a specific focus on marginal figures of women and girls—both as collective ensembles of participants and solitary witnesses. Following an improvisational approach, I trace a counter-history of the riot, read through the prisms of women’s gesture and sound, across multiple US temporalities and geographies. Attending to the structural conditions of the riot, this project addresses legacies of anti-blackness and collective resistance to police brutality, violent and non-violent protest, as well as black radical aesthetic practices.

The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship
Alexandra Gooding
MA student, Film + Photography Preservation and Collections Management, Ryerson University

Alexandra Gooding migrated to Toronto from Barbados to study photography. She obtained her BFA in Photography Studies (Hons) from Ryerson University in 2015 and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Ryerson’s Film + Photography Preservation and Collections Management program. She has received numerous scholarships, including an Ontario Graduate Scholarship (2018), a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship-Master’s award (2019), and a Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement (2020). She is interested in critically examining the geographic vocabularies used in conjunction with standards for archival descriptions in galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs) in order to demonstrate how these exclusive vocabularies inhibit accurate descriptions of complex regions—such as the circum-Caribbean—in collections catalogues. Alexandra recently presented preliminary research on this topic at the 2019 Museums Association of the Caribbean Conference in Martinique, and is currently undertaking her thesis research at Cambridge University Library, England.


 “Re-'Discovering' the (Circum-)Caribbean: Finding the Region in the Black Star Collection”

This project involves examining the Ryerson Image Centre’s holdings of over 1000 photographs depicting Caribbean countries in the Black Star Collection. The many possible definitions for "the Caribbean" and how this region is often subsumed by neighbouring regions in archival descriptions often hinder researchers’ attempts to easily locate Caribbean-related materials in institutional collections. The relatively new term “circum-Caribbean” is an attempt to denote the Caribbean while acknowledging its affiliated mainland nations. The Black Star Collection originates from the Black Star press agency, which had no steadfast standards for subject labeling of images. Since this filing system has been maintained, images of the circum-Caribbean and its constituent nations are spread over 250-plus subject headings. This project seeks to produce a clear and complete itemised finding aid for all relevant images in the Collection, with a clear definition of what countries constitute the Caribbean, according to Black Star’s labeling. The goal is to improve user access and intellectual accessibility to these materials so that new histories and representations of this region might be revealed—particularly since Black Star’s lifespan (1936 to the early 1990s) overlapped with many Caribbean nations' journeys to independence and attempts at formal regional organisation.

The Elaine Ling Fellowship
Frances Dorenbaum
Independent curator and art historian

Frances Dorenbaum is a curator and art historian from Toronto. She earned an MA in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory, and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she focused her research on the relationship between photographic images and text in contemporary visual culture. She has collaborated on exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston. She was the inaugural Edith Gowin Curatorial Fellow in Photography at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, where she organized Among Others: Photography and the Group(2019). Her writing has appeared in Hugh Edwards at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1959-1970 (2017). She is also the co-founder and co-curator of COLLABO, a curatorial project that investigates how domestic settings can be spaces for experimentation and connectivity.


“The enduring divisive effects of framing and cropping: An examination of late twentieth-century press images of Indigenous Peoples in Canada from the Rudolph P. Bratty Family and Black Star collections”

I plan to examine images in the Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection and the Black Star Collection that illustrate articles about Indigenous Peoples in Canada. I will focus on images made from the 1970s on, when some North American newspapers began to dedicate more consistent space to news relating to Indigenous communities. My overarching aim is to begin to classify the types of images in the Ryerson Image Centre’s Bratty and Black Star collections in order to better understand how these images were used in daily storytelling and how their compositions may have reinforced the alienation and misrepresentation of Indigenous communities in Canada. I intend to track specific criteria including the makers of the images; how the images were framed and cropped; and how often and in what contexts this significant, yet largely neglected, group of people was represented in the press. I will also compare and contrast how the subjects were portrayed in the images versus the text within the published articles. Finally, I will investigate if any unpublished photographs are saved in the collections and if those appear significantly different from the editors’ selections for print.

The Edie Yolles Research Prize
Emily McKibbon
Associate Director/Senior Curator, MacLaren Art Centre

Emily McKibbon is the Associate Director/Senior Curator at the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, Ontario. She has previously worked in curatorial, collections and research capacities at the George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY; Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; the Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto; and the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy, Auckland. She is a 2010 graduate of the Ryerson University Master of Arts program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management.


"No Ordinary Business: Black Star behind the ‘Magic Triangle'"

In Black Star: 60 Years of Photojournalism, historian Hendrik Neubauer describes how photographers, editors and agents formed a “magic triangle” of productivity during the golden age of this major American photo-agency. Utilizing Black Star administrative materials held by the RIC, as well as published photographs from the RIC’s complete run of Life magazine, this project scrutinizes the day-to-day administrative tasks of the agency to generate a fuller understanding of the ordinary business of photo agencies in the twentieth century. This research is an integral part of a larger examination of the history of Sovfoto/Eastfoto, a New York City-based photo agency operated by American citizens working at arms length from the Soviet government from 1931 or 1932. By investigating two vectors of the so-called “magic triangle” at Black Star—agents and editors—this research will allow a better understanding of the business model that Sovfoto emulated during its heyday as the most prolific distributor of Soviet propaganda in the United States.

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
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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: 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.

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

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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: 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 RIC books series, co-published with the MIT Press.

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: 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 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: 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.