I-45v. The Photographic Book since 1843

Richard Ovenden

Course Length: 12 hours
Schedule: 1–5 July 2024
Format: Online
Fee: $800

The nature, form, and impact of the book changed dramatically with the introduction of photography, altering the way books would be made, would appear, and would help transform the communication of ideas in visual form.

In parallel to this phenomenon, the ability of the photograph to reach its widest audience would entail an essential partnership with the form of the book. The nomenclature of photography remains tied to the book: we think of the photographic “print” and of “printing” a photograph, even in an era where digital imagery dominates. 

Alongside these intertwined histories is the current phenomenon of the “photobook,” with a great resurgence and flowering of studies on photobooks, and of contemporary photography’s increased creative engagement with the format of the book through dealers, fairs, specialized auction sales, and publications, and through a wealth of practice. 

This course is designed to explore the history of the photographic book since Anna Atkins’s Photographs of British Algae was first privately circulated in 1843. It will be comprised of six two-hour sessions delivered online, based on the collections of Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

The six sessions will emphasize the physical form of the photographic book, an element neglected by most of the recent studies of the genre. It aims, therefore, to bring together the twin disciplines of the history of the book and the history of photography. Classes will be structured around the examination of exemplar cases—and will examine these case studies through paying close attention to the materiality of the books: paper, printing techniques, and design, as well as distribution, sales, and prices. Many of the examples will be illuminated through supporting archival evidence.


Introduction and Overview to the Course / The Earliest Photobooks

  • Bibliography and historiography of the photographic book, from Johann Heinrich Schulze to Martin Parr and Gerry Badger
  • Outline of history of technology of reproducing photographic images
  • Early experiments in the photographic book: Anna Atkins, William Henry Fox Talbot, Hill & Adamson 

The Nineteenth Century, Photography in Silver and the Pasted-in Print

  • From paper to glass negatives; salted paper prints to albumen
  • The Blanquard-Evrard era: August Salzmann, Maxime Du Camp
  • The Albumen era: Francis Frith, Julia Margaret Cameron, Alexander Gardner, George Washington Wilson 

Not Fade Away: The Rise of the Photomechanical Processes

  •  Photogravure, carbon prints, woodburytype, collotype
  • Nasmyth and Carpenter, The Moon; Men of Mark; John Thomson; P. H. Emerson; Gertrude Kasebier, Camera Work

Fit to Print: Photography in Ink and the Mass Image

  •  The half-tone and rotogravure
  • Germaine Krull, the rise of the picture magazines, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Gordon Parks, Brassai, August Sander, Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson 

The Ubiquitous Image: Photolithography 

  • The continued evolution of photolithography
  • Ed Ruscha, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Martin Parr, Diane Arbus, Josef Koudelka, Daido Moriama, Eikoh Hosoe, Killed by Roses; Richard Benson and the mastery of photolithography, The Work of Atget; Madonna’s Sex
  • Innovation in the photobook: the integration with digital Susan Meiselas Nicaragua
  •  Making a photobook: Martin Parr, Oxford (2018), and a glimpse inside the Steidl printing shop

Click here to view the course description for the in-person version of this course.

Course History

2022, 2024
Richard Ovenden teaches this course online (12 hours).
Richard Ovenden teaches this course online (10 hours).
Richard Ovenden teaches this course in person.
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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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