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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.

Fig. 1

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 Collection: Definitions, Descriptions, Access (2012)
Learn More


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 more info, please contact: Dr. Thierry Gervais,
Application inquiries: Rachel Verbin,
Collection inquiries:

In 2019, the Ryerson Image Centre will offer four fellowships for research related to photography

RIC Research Fellowships

Application Deadline: November 15, 2018, 5:00 pm EST.
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 7 and December 20, 2019.

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 RIC Research Fellowship
This fellowship includes a $5,000 (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 at no later than November 15, 2018 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.

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.

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

2018 RIC Research Fellows

View all previous fellows

The Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellowship
Norman Domeier

Assistant Professor of Modern European History at the University of Stuttgart (Germany).

He is currently on leave until March 2018 as the Lise Meitner Fellow at the Institute for Contemporary History at the University of Vienna (Austria). The English edition of his Ph.D thesis, The Eulenburg Affair. A Cultural History of Politics in the German Empire, was published by Boydell & Brewer in 2015. His second book project—the focus of his current work—looks at the relationship between foreign journalists and Nazi Germany in the years between 1932 and 1946.

New discoveries in archival papers connected to World War II foreign correspondent Louis P. Lochner prove the existence of a secret cooperation between the Associated Press (AP) in the United States, and the Bureau Laux, an agency of the SS and the German Foreign Office. Between 1942 and 1945, with permission from the Roosevelt administration, AP and the Bureau Laux exchanged photographs on a daily basis. Transiting via Lisbon, but also Stockholm beginning in 1943/44, approximately 40,000 photographs were swapped between the war enemies until spring 1945. In Berlin, the AP photographs were presented daily to Adolf Hitler and the highest Nazi leadership. They were also used for anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda in the German press. Conversely, thousands of Nazi photographs received by AP New York were printed in the American, Canadian and international press. This research project in the Black Star Collection will shed new light on AP as a news and picture agency, foreign reporting, and the political use of photographs during the Nazi era and the Second World War

The RIC Research Fellowship
Vanessa Lakewood
Ph.D candidate in Art History and Visual Culture at York University in Toronto (Canada).

She has researched photographic collections and worked on exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario (Canada), the Art Museum at the University of Toronto (Canada), Georgian College Campus Gallery (Canada), and the J. Paul Getty Museum (United States). She is completing her dissertation on the American documentary photographer Martha Cooper, a trained photojournalist who quit her job at the New York Post in 1980 to pursue documentary projects on youth culture, street life, and the subversive underground art movements of graffiti and Hip Hop

This research project, titled Picturing Wild Style, is about the role of photography in representing and making visible aesthetic practices in Black life and lives in New York City in the post-Civil Rights era. Referencing a style of graffiti lettering that is deliberately illegible to the public, this project summons critical inquiry about photography as a cultural platform for aesthetic and community visibility. The Post-Civil Rights generation witnessed a convergence of repressive policies under then-President Ronald Reagan and Mayor Ed Koch. Photojournalism of the city’s street life thus informed its public conception as a site of social and democratic struggle, notable for the structural decay of its built environment and an imbalanced representation of racial politics. Surveying the Black Star agency’s New York pictures of 1977–1984 will define what Rachel Malik has described as “horizons of the publishable,” revealing how Cooper negotiated prevailing modes of representation while striving to make the joyous and illicit creative actions of her young subjects seen as something other than an urban problem.

The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship
Philippe Depairon

Holds a B.A. (Hons.) in Art History from the Université de Montréal (Canada).

He is the recipient of master’s scholarships from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Fonds de recherche du Québec-Société et culture. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree centered on the work of photojournalist Kazuma Obara and the visual and material culture of nuclear energy.

After completing a series of photographs on the fallout of the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima in 2011, Kazuma Obara turned his lens on Chernobyl for his 2016 body of work Exposure. For this project, Obara took pictures of survivors using analog film exposed to radioactivity during the 1986 event. By doing so he actualized the catastrophe and his subjects found semantic echoes in the damaged properties of the film. The Black Star Collection provides the opportunity to draw a global portrait of nuclear visual culture. Obara’s work eludes the tropes of “the monstrous,” “the nuclear sublime” and “post-industrial ruins” and invites the spectator to rethink what radioactivity looks like, and how it has—and still is—impacting people. This research project aims to better understand the multiple ways nuclear imagery was developed and transmitted, and how Obara’s practice inscribes itself therein.

The Elaine Ling Fellowship 
Jorge Ayala

Holds a Master’s degree in Documentary Media, and a Bachelor’s degree in New Media from Ryerson University (Canada)

Prior to this, he studied at the Hochschule der Medien in Stuttgart (Germany) and interned at The Cuban Cinematheque (Havana). His practice explores issues of temporality, ephemerality and immersive experiences, with a current focus on themes of memory, identity, and Latin American revolutionary cinema.

During the early years of the revolution, access to Cuba by the foreign press, filmmakers and tourists was gradually restricted. The majority of images of life on the island were obtained from locally produced films that, due to the US embargo, had limited distribution. As the Soviet-subsidized economy collapsed in the early 1990s, the island slowly reopened its borders to tourism at the same time as it maintained a slight veil of mystery around itself: snapshots of beautiful but crumbling Havana buildings, colourful 1950s American cars, and the Buena Vista Social Club film are but a few examples of the cliché imagery of an island exoticized by tourists, visitors and foreign media alike. This project will examine Black Star photographs by Fred Ward and other foreign photojournalists taken between 1960 and 1990, and compare them with images created by local photographers in Cuba. How much access was granted to foreign photographers on the island? How did this access, or lack thereof, influence the images they made? And what differences can we establish between the images created by locals versus foreign photojournalists?

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

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
(Available February 2018)

Co-published by: Ryerson Image Centre 
and the MIT Press

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.