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Research

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

About

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. 

Symposia

Symposia

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)

Fellowships

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: Alexandra Gooding, Research Program Coordinator, ricresearch@ryerson.ca
Collection Inquiries: riccollections@ryerson.ca
Scholarly Inquiries: Dr. Thierry Gervais, Head of Research, gervais@ryerson.ca

RIC Research Fellowships
Applications are now closed for our 2021 fellowships. 

In 2021, the Ryerson 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 Ryerson Image Centre and the Ryerson University Archive and Library Special Collections. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at the RIC a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of three (3) months, between March 15 and December 4, 2021. 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 Ryerson Image Centre and the Ryerson University Archive and Library Special Collections. Special consideration may be given to fulfill specific research goals. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at the RIC a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of three (3) months, between March 15 and December 4, 2021. Changes in scheduling, timing, and duration of the fellowship may be shifted due to COVID-19.

The Wendy Snyder MacNeil Research Fellowship
This fellowship 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. It includes a $2,500 (CAD) stipend for travel, research, and other expenses. Candidates must hold or be working toward an MA degree. Candidate’s research should utilize the collections and resources of the Ryerson Image Centre or the Ryerson University Archive and Library Special Collections. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at the RIC a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of four (4) weeks, between March 15 and December 4, 2021. 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. The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship is open to those holding or working toward an MA degree, or independent artists and scholars with equivalent experience and demonstrated interests. Candidate’s research should utilize the collections and resources of the Ryerson Image Centre or the Ryerson University Archive and Library Special Collections. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at the RIC a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of four (4) weeks, between March 1 and December 4, 2021. 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 an MA degree. Candidate’s research should utilize the collections and resources of the Ryerson Image Centre or the Ryerson University Archive and Library Special Collections. The fellow will be expected to carry out their research at the RIC a minimum of one (1) to a maximum of four (4) weeks, between March 15 and December 4, 2021. Changes in scheduling, timing, and duration of the fellowship may be shifted due to COVID-19.

Applications must be sent to Thierry Gervais via email c/o Rachel Verbin at rverbin@ryerson.ca no later than January 29, 2021 by 5:00 p.m. EST (deadline extended). The application must include the following:

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

These first three components must be gathered in one PDF document titled: FirstnameLastname2021-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 2021Fellowship Applicant [full name of applicant] in the email subject line and please title the document: FirstnameLastname2021-Reference.PDF

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

2021 RIC Research Fellows

View all previous fellows

The Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellowship
Dr. Audrey Leblanc

Audrey Leblanc is a Ph.D. historian, specialized in the history of photography. She graduated at the EHESS (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales), and collaborates there since 2016 as an associate researcher. So far she curated two exhibitions: "Icons of May 68: Images have a history" at the National Library of France (BnF) where she also edited its catalog (2018) and is currently curating an exhibition about the independent press photographer Elie Kagan (La contemporaine, Nanterre University). She teaches history and visual culture (University of Lille, Paris 2 French Institute of Press) and led the seminar "Photography, publishing, press: a cultural history of image producers" (EHESS, 2018-2019). Three times research fellow awarded by the BnF (2016-2017), by the Institut Pour la Photographie (2019) and by the National Audiovisual Institute (INA, 2020): Audrey Leblanc analyses the cultural history of image producers such as press photo agencies, and the television industry. She considers photographs as a social factor in the circulation of narratives, the construction of values, and social conventions of the visual culture from the 60s to the 80s.

Abstract
"Visual Culture of the 1960s and the 1970s: Iconographic Exploitation of the Black Star Collection"

The years 1960-75 correspond to the takeover of the management of the Black Star agency by Howard Chapnick. Photographic press agencies are much studied from a news perspective, a specificity they claim and on which the history of photojournalism is built for the most part, especially from the second half of the 20th century. Black Star is one of the flagships in this prestigious American history. However, in order to remain competitive in the vast image market, agencies had to organize complex fund management and could not avoid iconographic exploitation of their funds, a more mundane, less well-known activity. These agencies, which are responsive to multiple news items (news, politics, culture, etc.), i.e. are sensitive to the date of the events photographed, paradoxically adopt a classification of images by theme, including for news, reduced to keywords. The presentation of the Black Star Collection kept at the RIC underlines both the diversity of the production and highlights the commercial aspect of the agency (by assigning a special place to the Corporate). This research project wishes to focus on these professional practices that disclose other ways in which photographs produced in agencies are disseminated and contribute to the conditions of image visibility: the iconographic exploitation of the collections. This leads to the understanding of the impact these fonds have on the elaboration of a complex visual culture of the news of this period in the West.

Singer Family Doctoral Fellowship
Dr. Emily Doucet

Emily Doucet is a writer and historian of photography and visual culture. She received her PhD in Art  History from the University of Toronto (2020). She will be an International Fellow with the Institute  of Advanced Study in the Humanities in Essen, Germany in Spring 2021. From 2022-2023 she will be  a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill  University. She writes on historical and contemporary art and visual culture for a variety of  publications, including Border Crossings, C Magazine, Canadian Art online, Communication + 1, Lady  Science, Public Parking, among others. Recently, she co-edited a special issue of the journal Grey Room

Abstract
“Mobile Images: Photographic Formats and the Postal Service, 1870-1945” 

This research project examines the relationship between novel photographic formats and state postal networks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Particular formats to be considered in this study include microphotographs, Real Photo Postcards, Airgraphs, and V-mail. The use of the Airgraph and V-mail formats by the British and U. S. military, respectively, led to the establishment of international photographic mail operations in locales such as Australia, Burma, Egypt, East Africa, Canada, India, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. The Real Photo Postcard was likewise an object of global exchange. Taking up “format theory” (Sterne, 2012) as a guiding methodology, this project examines the individuals, organizations, and infrastructures which have shaped the politics of photographic innovation as it has intersected with state communication networks. In doing so, this project also interrogates the role of corporations such as Eastman Kodak in the maintenance of colonial communication networks.

The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship
Tal-Or K. Ben-Choreen

Tal-Or K. Ben-Choreen is doctoral candidate at Concordia University in the department of Art History specialising in photography. Her doctoral studies, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities  Research Council and Fulbright, focus on the institutionalisation of photography education in  Canadian and American schools between 1960 and 1989. Her work has been published in Afterimage Online, Canadian Jewish Studies, and the Contemporary Review of the Middle East

Abstract
“Constructing the Ryerson Teaching Collection Through Social Connections”  

This study explores the means by which the lecture series and conferences held at the School of Image Arts beginning in 1975 until 1989 impacted the development of the RIC’s collection. By investigating the collection’s acquisition history relative to these speaking events, I will tease out how these activities shaped the collection and, as a result, creative photography education at  Ryerson more generally. The growth of photography collections at institutions of higher-education is due in part to educators who stressed the importance of teaching students using ‘master prints.’  These objects were used as pedagogical tools. Beyond this, prints were a practical means to educate  students on the history of photography. During the 1960s and ’70s, ‘master prints’ could be  purchased for modest sums and provided a stronger pedagogical tool compared to slides and  reproductions in books. By exploring the collection’s development via the speakers who were invited  to Ryerson, I will show how the understandings of photographic education at Ryerson aligned or deviated from the historical narrative of the medium emerging largely from American models.

The Elaine Ling Fellowship
Susan Mundy

Susan Mundy holds a Bachelor’s degree in History and political theory from McGill University and is currently a Master’s candidate in the Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management program at Ryerson University. Her Master’s thesis investigates the visual record of the Bosnian War (1992–1995) and how it has taken shape through the circulation of images in the media and other contexts. Her current research focuses on Magnum photographer Gilles Peress, using his work in Bosnia as an access point to examine the consequences of different cities of circulation for the affective power of images of war. 

Abstract
“Constructing Yugoslavia in the Western Imagination: An Analytical Survey of the Black Star Collection”

This project involves a methodical survey of the Black Star Collection that will focus on all materials related to Yugoslavia. This research will assess how people, places and events are portrayed in individual photographs, as well as general themes and categories that are typically emphasized in representations of the region. The goal is to discover the patterns of visibility that constructed Yugoslavia in the western imagination by stipulating what was important, peculiar or essential about this place to distant spectators. This work is broadly concerned with understanding the response of Western audiences to the inundation of photojournalism that brought the Balkan crisis into view over the course of the 1990’s. Although the situation in Bosnia was the first in which mass media coverage made genocide visible to the outside world while it was happening, there was a notable disjunct between the available evidence of atrocity and the reaction of the international community. This project ultimately seeks to understand the hegemonic discourse which compelled certain attitudes towards the Balkan region, and to investigate how its specific character may have shaped the affective reactions that were possible for Western audiences when eventually confronted with images of war and human suffering in Bosnia.

The Wendy Snyder MacNeil Research Fellowship
Cynthia Johnston 

A former professional basketball player who competed for Canada at the 1996 Olympics, Cynthia  Johnston holds a MFA in Documentary Media, a BA in Humanities (focus Art History) and a diploma in photojournalism. As a mother of five, the range of her photography practice includes exploring intimate family narratives juxtaposed with street documentary and storytelling for change initiatives through Photographers Without Borders in India. Her working style falls somewhere between painting and photojournalism. 

Abstract
“Hand Testimonies” 

Looking specifically at the platinum-palladium printed hand images originally photographed by Wendy Snyder MacNeil between 1976 and 1983, the intent is to create a multi-perspective narrative of these “hand portraits”. By closely examining the stories revealed through each image from the standpoint of different individuals who interpret, analyze and see hands in varying ways, the descriptions elicited would be paired up against the actual lives of the individuals whose hand had been photographed by MacNeil. Together, the details of the various hand testimonies will provide a multi-perspective hybrid of factual observations versus poetic, specialization versus anecdotal. These dialogues would essentially create conversations in layers, adding a complexity of “truths” based on perspective and experience while simultaneously contributing to the existing visual archive with one that will also be written.

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.