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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

Artist Mishka Henner (left) and RIC director Paul Roth (right) 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. 


A mysterious black box in the middle of a rocky, desert landscape
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Michael Mitchell, Black Square: Alberta Badlands, Brooks, 1979, chromogenic print. Courtesy of the artist

Photography: The Black Box of History

Free admission. No RSVP or regristration required.

Friday, March 16 – Saturday, March 17, 2018
A symposium in partnership with the Ryerson Image Centre and the University of Delaware
School of Image Arts, Ryerson University
122 Bond Street, third floor, room IMA-307

Keynote speakers: Prof. Elizabeth Edwards and Dr. Tina Campt

The academic study of photography remains, some eighty years into its development, a nascent and unsettled scholarly enterprise. This symposium will investigate how photography is conceptualized as a problem in history today, and how recent technological and epistemological transformations have engendered new approaches. Photography: The Black Box of History will bring together researchers whose methods and subjects exemplify new ways of thinking about photography that revisit history and encourage alternatives.

Learn more and view the schedule


Since launching in 2012, the RIC has organized four symposia, bringing together more than sixty 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 four symposia. 
These include:

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 further information please contact:
Dr. Thierry Gervais:

In 2018, the Ryerson Image Centre will offer four fellowships for research related to photography

RIC Research Fellowships

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. Special consideration will be given this year to projects related to the Black Star agency – its operating mode, its role in conveying visual news, its cultural impact. 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 9 and December 15, 2018.

The Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellowship
This fellowship includes a $10,000 (CAD) stipend for travel, research and other expenses. Candidates must hold a Ph.D. 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. 

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.

These first three components must be gathered in ONE 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 2017 Fellowship Applicant (full name of applicant) in the email subject line.)

To view the complete guidelines for the fellowship application, including eligibility and selection process, please click here.

2017 RIC Research Fellows

View all previous fellows

The Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellowship
Christian Joschke
Assistant Professor at the University Paris-Nanterre and lecturer at the University of Geneva.

During 2016–17, he is substitute professor at the University of Lausanne. He is currently working on a research project with the Centre Pompidou in Paris about social and documentary photography in the 1930's. He recently published Les yeux de la nation. Photographie amateur dans l'Allemagne de Guillaume II, Dijon, Les presses du réel, 2013 et La Guerre 14 – 18, Photopoche, 2014.

The transnational market of soviet images. 
Union-Foto and the US agencies in the 1930’s
How were the Soviet photographs sold in foreign countries during the interwar period? Who were the actors and institutions who organized the international market of these images? Though there has been much written about photography in the USSR, the history of the Soviet photo-agencies still needs to be explored. In a recent book, Jean-François Fayet pointed out the role of the Soviet unofficial diplomacy for the elaboration of the communist press in foreign countries, especially in Switzerland. As the Comintern was to financially help the communist press, the VOKS, led by Olga Kameneva, was important for logistical matters. This organization launched an international photo-agency, Russ-Foto, which became in 1931 Soyuz-Foto. These agencies did spread out their material to the communist illustrated press around the world. How where these photographs distributed in Western countries? Who were the partner agencies? This project aims at finding out how the commerce of Soviet photographs was organized in Western countries, especially in the US.

The Doina Popescu Fellowship
Victoria Gao
A doctoral candidate in the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester, with a focus on twentieth-century American road photography.

She is currently writing a dissertation on the photographic and filmic work of Berenice Abbott, Robert Frank, and William Christenberry. She also has a strong interest in curatorial studies and has interned at several museums, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 1954 Berenice Abbott took a tour of the east coast of the United States, driving along U.S. Route 1 from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida. Carefully focused, steadily crafted, and endeavoring to create a portrait of an American public in a time of transition, the photographs of her unpublished book proposal U.S. 1 reveal a sharply satirical critique of 1950s American society through the juxtapositions of smiling middle class families and colorful advertising slogans against racial segregation, commercial waste, struggling local economies, and gender inequality. This series was acquired as part of the Berenice Abbott Archive by the Ryerson Image Centre in 2015, and my project is to conduct a thorough study of the U.S. 1 series, which includes over 1,500 negatives, as primary research for a dissertation chapter. By examining the subjects Abbott chose, the color process she used, the commercial advertisements she saw, and the images she ultimately turned into prints, this project better understand how Abbott’s photographs are contextualized within the road photography genre and contribute to the existing scholarship on her work as a whole. 

The Howard Tanenbaum Fellowship
Zoë Lepiano
A photographic researcher and archivist.

She holds a BFA in Photography from Concordia and a MA in Photographic Collections Management from Ryerson University. Her current research intersects the material history of photographic production, with a particular focus on the art practices of women at the turn of the 21st Century.

The Ryerson Image Centre’s Wendy Snyder MacNeil Archive contains over five thousand objects; preparatory work—mock-ups, test prints, maquettes—negatives and exhibition prints, personal ephemera and publications spanning MacNeil’s lengthy career. 

Biographies and Album Pages are the only sub-series within MacNeil’s archive with multiple types of objects housed together, organized by sitter. The Ryerson Image Centre database has multiple listings under these sitters’ names. Missing from the organization of these objects are the personal histories and connections between MacNeil and her subjects—the foundation for MacNeil’s practice and the subsequent platinum palladium prints that she is best known for. Adding this information to the database records that comprise the archival fonds, allows a clearer reading of MacNeil’s relationships and working process, and their interwoven nature.I intend to consult the holdings to gather links and information between the sous-fonds, connecting ephemera, audio recordings, negatives and preparatory work to MacNeil’s final prints.

The Elaine Ling Fellowship 
Joey Brooke Jakob
A PhD candidate in the joint graduate program in Communication and Culture at Ryerson University and York University. 

Joey Brooke Jakob has a background in various forms of media production, including filmmaking, photography, and radio. At present, she studies media: employing a combined sociohistorical and comparative approach, she negotiates the meanings of visual and rhetorical forms. Focusing on alleviating social inequalities, Joey believes we can think through, and then move toward, enacting improvements in our communities.

‘Better Than The Movies’: Representing Enmity, Victory, and Vicarious Emotion in War Photographs from the Black Star Collection

Civilians play a large role in the narratives that circulate alongside photojournalistic accounts of war. The Black Star Collection holds a photo taken by J.P. Charbonnier in 1945, featuring a gathered crowd that watches the execution of a French traitor. Charbonnier describes the photo: “People are laughing, waiting for revenge. This is going to be better than the movies”. His description is relevant, pointing toward viewers’ engagement, not as that of passive bystanders, but instead toward their active celebration of a brutal event. Using this and other historical photographs from the Collection, this project explains how regular people help to build supportive war narratives for their “side”, by participating in the acrimony toward “enemy Others”. By illustrating ‘vicarious emotion’, whereby the portrayal of successful combat is represented in images intended for popular circulation, civilians are active producers of cultural or shared memories: to be photographed emanating emotional support for the war effort is to partake in its victory, which culminates in the making of a photographic war trophy. 

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
Fig. 3

  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
Fig. 4

  A page from The "Public Life" of Photographs

Another interior page from The "Public Life" of Photographs
Fig. 5

   A page from The "Public Life" of Photographs

Fig. 1

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.