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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.

Past Symposia

Since launching in 2012, the RIC has brought together dozens of international scholars via five symposia. 
Full programs, participant lists and links to watch archived video can be found for each below:

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)

Toronto Convention. About Photographic Collections: Definitions, Descriptions, Access (2012)
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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:
Collection Inquiries:
Scholarly Inquiries: Dr. Thierry Gervais, Head of Research:

In 2020, the Ryerson Image Centre will offer four fellowships for research related to photography

RIC Research Fellowships

The 2020 Call for Research Fellows is now open. 

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 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 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.

2019 RIC Research Fellows

View all previous fellows

The Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellowship
Marianne le Galliard
PhD, independent art historian 

Marianne le Galliard is an independent art historian. Her work focuses on the history of photography and modern art, specifically fashion photography, magazines, and photographic albums. Her PhD thesis, titled “Lartigue in the Eyes of Avedon: The Issue of the Photographic Album with Diary of a Century (1970),” explores the relationship between French and American photographers Jacques Henri Lartigue and Richard Avedon. As the 2015–16 winner of the Louis Roederer Research Scholarship in Photography, she curated the exhibition Avedon’s France, Old World, New Look at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (2016).

"The Side Pictures of the Black Star Collection" 

Studying the photographs in the well-known American magazine Harper's Bazaar between the 1930s and the 1970s, Marianne le Galliard came across a number of photographs attributed to Black Star. Very often these images, and the way they would appear, can be described as “unspecific,” “vague,” or at times even “puzzling.” This research project proposes to investigate the particular status of these pictures, which seem to stand aside from the categorized standards of photography, whether that is documentary, reportage, fashion, advertising, or portrait. The proposal derives from two main challenges: Would it be possible to isolate the pictures from the Ryerson Image Centre’s Black Star Collection that correspond to this grey area of the "side" category? Then, assuming a body of work can be assembled, how can we define these images which appear to be devoid of a determined subject? As a result, this study will offer an original look at the more “discrete” work that belongs to the Black Star Collection and could potentially open up discussions on the cataloguing and inventory of photographs that lack a definite subject as such.

The RIC Research Fellowship
Adam Lauder

SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at York University (Toronto, Canada)

Adam Lauder is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at York University in Toronto. He obtained a PhD from the Department of History of Art at the University of Toronto in 2016. His current research employs the non-aesthetics of François Laruelle to study Canadian information art in the 1970s—a time when artists began to explore new scientific frameworks and modalities of “fiction.”

“The Mechanical Bride in the Age of Photo(-mechanical) Journalism: Reconnecting McLuhan, Black Star and Life Magazine”

This research project sets out to uncover the impact that photojournalism, specifically that of the New York-based Black Star photo agency, had on media analyst Marshall McLuhan’s first monograph, The Mechanical Bride (1951). It will ask the question: To what extent were McLuhan’s influential claims about the impact of mass media in general, and the innovative forms that those claims took in The Mechanical Bride in particular, shaped by the visual strategies developed by Black Star photojournalists as packaged and disseminated by Life magazine? A secondary question will also be asked: How did the socio-political context documented by Life magazine at mid-century (changing gender roles, racial tensions, armed conflicts and the Cold War) shape these same claims? Current conversations about the impact of media—be they social media or predatory purveyors of “fake” news—lend renewed relevance to McLuhan’s commentaries on the entanglement of news and social attitudes, yet also demand that one scrutinize the sources and ideological contexts that originally informed them.

The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship
Jackson Davidow

PhD candidate in History, Theory, and Criticism of Art at MIT

Jackson Davidow is a doctoral candidate in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Art program at MIT, where he is completing a dissertation titled “Viral Visions: Art, Epidemiology, and Spatial Practices in the Global AIDS Pandemic.” He is currently a Junior Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. His article “Art Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and American Modernism” appeared in the summer 2018 issue of American Art.

“Reframing Jo Spence: Phototherapy and Health Activism in 1980s London”

This project will use the Jo Spence Memorial Archive held at the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) to analyze the intersections of art, therapy, and health activism in 1980s London. Focusing on the concept of phototherapy, this project will dwell on three interconnected research concerns that collectively have the potential to reveal new elements of Spence’s life work. Firstly, the project will attempt to establish a stronger understanding of the networks of cultural production in which she operated. Secondly, it will strive to obtain a better sense of the ways in which phototherapy was engaged in local health politics, specifically the women’s health and AIDS activist movements. Rather than solely treating phototherapy as a method that emerged through the creative vision of Spence and Rosy Martin in 1983, this project will work to situate the practice within a complex local landscape of health activism and feminist critique of Western science, medicine, and psychology. Thirdly, this research will endeavour to elucidate the relationship between phototherapy and other arts-based therapeutic methods.

The Elaine Ling Fellowship
Carla-Jean Stokes
MA in History from Wilfrid Laurier University and MA in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management from Ryerson University

Carla-Jean Stokes has a Masters of History from Wilfrid Laurier University, as well as a Masters of Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management from Ryerson University. Carla-Jean won the 2015 Photographic Historical Society of Canada thesis prize for her paper, “British Official First World War Photographs, 1916-1918: Arranging and Contextualizing a Collection of Prints at the Art Gallery of Ontario,” later published in Photographic Canadiana. She has also written for the Laurier Centre for Strategic and Disarmament Studies, Legion and Espirit de Corps magazine.

"'Somewhere in France:' Contextualizing the Ryerson Image Centre’s Collection of Canadian First World War Photographs" 

This project involves examining the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC)’s collection of 120 Canadian official First World War photographs previously used by the New York Times and currently part of the Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection held at the RIC. The photographs were produced by the Canadian War Records Office (CWRO) and distributed to newspapers internationally with the goal of raising Canada’s profile abroad. This research project aims to contextualize the photographs at an item level by providing further information on makers, dates, locations, and associated events. It will also involve identifying similar photographs in other Canadian collections in order to build relationships between photograph repositories and to assist in the better understanding of the RIC’s collection.  

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.