I-45. The Photographic Book since 1843

Richard Ovenden

“The course gave me a different perspective on early photography and the development of the photobook.” — 2017 student

This course will explore the evolution of the photographically-illustrated book from the first commercially available example (William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature) to the present day. We will focus on the technical developments in the production of photographically-illustrated books, covering both photographic processes themselves and—in greater depth—the developments in photomechanical printing that have driven the historical expansion of the field. Students will look at key examples, exploring the books themselves and their surviving archival evidence for the technical, commercial, aesthetic, and cultural decisions that came together to make the production of key photographic books possible. Genres and trends in photographic books will be discussed, and the course will include a full-day field trip to major collections in Washington DC, especially the Library of Congress. We will also examine recent trends in the historiography, collecting, and trade in photographic books.

The course assumes a basic familiarity with the history of photographic technology and photography in general, as well as a basic understanding of photomechanical printing processes. In their personal statements, applicants should indicate their level of familiarity in each of these areas.

The tuition for this course is $1,495 owing to the expenses associated with the scheduled field trip.

Click here to view the course description for the virtual version of this course.

Course History

Richard Ovenden teaches this course online (12 hours).
Richard Ovenden teaches this course online (10 hours).
Richard Ovenden teaches this course in person.

Course Resources

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Richard Ovenden

Richard Ovenden

Richard Ovenden is Bodley’s Librarian at the University of Oxford, the senior executive officer of the Bodleian Libraries, a position he has held since 2014. His previous positions include Deputy Head of Rare Books at the National Library of Scotland, and the Head of Special Collections and Director of Collections at the University of Edinburgh. He held the Keepership of Special Collections at the Bodleian from 2003 to 2011, when he was made Deputy Librarian. He has been active in both the worlds of rare books and the history of photography, serving as Chairman of the Rare Books and Special Collections Group of CILIP, and Secretary of the Scottish Society for the History of Photography. He is currently a Trustee of the Kraszna Kraus Foundation and of Chawton House Library. He is the author of John Thomson (1837–1921): Photographer (1997) and co-editor of A Radical’s Books: The Library Catalogue of Samuel Jeake of Rye (1999), and has contributed essays to the Cambridge History of Libraries, the Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, and the History of Oxford University Press. He has been a contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Oxford Companion to the Book. He holds a Professorial Fellowship at Balliol College, Oxford, and has been elected to Fellowships of the Royal Society of Arts and of the Society of Antiquaries. In 2015, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

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