Visual Cultures: the Social Meanings of Photography and Art

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
29 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA LL36 Social Anthropology,
BA LL3P Social Anthropology (Including Year Abroad),
BA LL6P Social Anthropology (Including Placement Year)

Module description

This module examines how photography and other forms of visual art provide meanings and interpretations of societies.

Module aims

It will explore the ways in which visual media act as a documentary of large-scale social and political trends such as industrialization, economic and social class systems, gender relations, migration, indigenous peoples, crime and war.

The module will also examine how photographs provide 'image worlds' that translate into immediate and compelling narratives of cultural identity and social change. The emphasis will be on showing how the camera allows for realities about society to be constructed and disseminated, but also how the image allows for ambiguity in how we understand society.

Module learning outcomes

After introducing students to insights drawn from writers on photography such as Susan Sontag, John Berger, Roland Barthes, and Geoff Dyer, and the module will focus on selected topics and draw on the works of numerous photographers which may include among others, William Henry Fox-Talbot, Matthew Brady, Edward Curtis, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Martin Parr, Cindy Sherman, Robert Capa and Don McCullin.

Module information

Please note that assessment information is currently showing for 2019-20 and will be updated in September.

Over the course of the term, we hope that you will be inspired to take advantage of the proximity of London to see good exhibitions of photography. At any one time, there are numerous small and large exhibitions at venues such as the Photographers Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Institute for Contemporary Arts, Serpentine Gallery, Hayward Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, Victoria and Albert Museum, Whitechapel Gallery, Imperial War Museum and numerous smaller commercial galleries.

There may also be more local exhibitions in Colchester or on campus, and in your travels, you may well be in places where interesting photography exhibitions are taking place.

Your assignment is to select out an exhibition and review it. Your review should be a personal interpretation of the works on show, but also indicate the social and aesthetic meanings of the works you looked at including what they may say about topics such as landscapes, industrialization, colonization, economic and social class systems, gender relations, migration, ethnicity, crime and war.

Your assignment should also comment on the social and curatorial context of the exhibition itself, the publicity surrounding it, including other reviews, and the significance of the works in question for understanding society as a whole.

Learning and teaching methods

No information available.


  • Mohr, Jean. (1995) 'Appearances', in Another way of telling, New York: Vintage Books., pp.85-128
  • Becker, Howard Saul. (1974) 'Photography and Sociology', in Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication. vol. 1 (1) , pp.3-26
  • Barthes, Roland. (1997) 'Shock-Photos', in The Eiffel Tower, and other mythologies, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Carney, Phil. (2010) 'Crime, Punishment and the Force of Photographic Spectacle', in Framing crime: cultural criminology and the image, London: Routledge.
  • Warburon, Nigel. (1992) 'Diane Arbus and Erving Goffman: The Presentation of Self.', in History of Photography;. vol. 16 (4) , pp.401-404
  • Jump, Anne. (2007) 'Regarding the Torture of Others', in At the same time: essays and speeches, London: Hamish Hamilton., pp.128-144
  • Clarke, Graham. (1997) 'The City in Photography', in The photograph, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rickard, Jolene. (c1998) 'The Occupation of Indigenous Space as Photograph', in Native nations: journeys in American photography, London: Barbican Art Gallery.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Research Essay 1    40% 
Coursework   Reading week assignment     20% 
Coursework   Research Essay 2     40% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Eamonn Carrabine, email:
Prof Colin Samson, email:
Professor Colin Samson, Professor Eamonn Carrabine
Jane Harper, Undergraduate Administrator, Tel: 01206 873052



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 18 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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