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Unit information: The Camera Eye: Inter-war Photographic Culture (Level I Lecture Response Unit) in 2014/15

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Unit name The Camera Eye: Inter-war Photographic Culture (Level I Lecture Response Unit)
Unit code HART25000
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Haran
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of History of Art (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The adoption of photography and film by the international avant-garde during the 1920s and 1930s was accompanied by the rhetoric of the ‘camera eye’, whereby the camera provided a new objective mode of vision that was consonant with the machine age in America, the Revolution in Russia, and the reconstruction of Europe. This course explores the myriad uses of photography and film, looking at Expressionist cinema, Dada and Soviet photomontage, experiments in medium in Dada and Surrealist photography, New Vision photography, Surrealist films, Soviet montage epics, Nazi propaganda, and documentary practices in photography and film in Britain and the United States.

Specifically, this unit aims to provide an extensive examination of this fascinating body of work; to engender an engagement with past and present photography and film discourses through close analysis of primary and secondary texts; and to introduce key terms such as avant-garde, the uncanny, montage, documentary, the archive, and propaganda.

Intended learning outcomes

  • To provide a broad grounding of the history of photography and film in the inter-war years.
  • To provide a particular perspective from the tutor to which students can react critically and build their own individual views and interpretations.
  • To develop skills in researching, analysing and critiquing issues that are specific to the study of photographic media.

Teaching details

Weekly 2-hour interactive lecture sessions Tutorial feedback on essay Access to tutorial consultation with unit tutor in consultation hours

Assessment Details

A 3000 word essay (50%) and 2-hour unseen written examination (50%) will assess the student’s understanding of artistic developments in the field of study and of the ways in which art historians have interpreted developments in the field; test the student’s ability to think critically and develop their own views and interpretations; and test knowledge and understanding of photographic culture and the accompanying primary and secondary sources.

Reading and References

  • Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, Pimlico, 1999.
  • Patricia Aufderheide, Documentary Film: a Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, c2007.
  • John Roberts, The Art of Interruption: Realism, Photography, and the Everyday, Manchester University Press, 1998.
  • Richard Bolton, ed., The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography, MIT Press, 1989.
  • Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of German Film, Princeton, 1947.
  • Rosalind Kraus and Jane Livingston, eds., L’Amour Fou: Photography and Surrealism, Abbeville Press, 1985.