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Tuesdays, June 8–29, 2 – 4:10pm


John Thomson. Clapham Common Industries: Photography on the Common (detail), 1877. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Gift of Mathew Wolf. Public Domain.

$220; members $198
(4 classes)

All classes in Eastern time. We encourage you to watch live, but classes can be streamed once the live session ends. See our FAQ.

About the Class

This course focuses on well-known 19th-century photographers, looking closely at their innovations and delving into early debates about the purpose and potential of this new medium. Was photography supposed to produce documents or art? Was it a passive record or highly subjective view of the world? Was it a technology to produce evidence or a radical new form of entertainment and political propaganda? Did photographic portraits capture the inner essence of its sitters or reveal the limitations of outward appearances? And finally, was photography a democratic invention, or did it reinforce class privilege and power? Discover how these fundamental questions about photography anticipated the complexities of our own image-saturated world.

Each week, the main lecture is followed by a 30-minute discussion session that allows students the opportunity to ask questions and exchange ideas with the instructor and classmates.


Ellen McBreen

McBreen is an associate professor of the history of art at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. She was a co-curator of the 2017 exhibition Matisse in the Studio and wrote Matisse’s Sculpture: The Pinup and the Primitive (Yale University Press, 2014). She is currently serving as a curatorial advisor for Migrating Objects at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.