History of Photography Podcast 10 : The Kodak Brownie

The Kodak Brownie camera was one of the most popular cameras in the history of photography. The Brownie popularized low-cost photography and introduced the concept of the snapshot to a public eager to preserve their personal and family memories. With its simple controls and initial price of $1, it was intended to be a camera that anyone could afford and use.

Links for this episode:



The Kodak Brownie
The Kodak Brownie

History of Photography Podcast 9 : Latent Image and Immediate Image

When light sensitive material is exposed to light, a chemical change happens, but this change isn’t necessarily visible. This idea is perhaps part of why early photographers – and early viewers of photographic images – had a hard time with the concept of the latent image, yet it was one of the most important components of the technology of photography in its infancy.

History of Photography Podcast 8 : Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky

The photographs of pioneer color photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944) give us a remarkable view into a world that is now lost – the Russian Empire just before the Russian Revolution and World War I. In this podcast we explore both Prokudin-Gorsky’s photographs and the unique tri-color photographic technique he employed to create them.

Links for this podcast:

Peasant Girls - Three young women offer berries to visitors to their izba, a traditional wooden house, in a rural area along the Sheksna River, near the town of Kirillov. Photograph by Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky
Peasant Girls – Three young women offer berries to visitors to their izba, a traditional wooden house, in a rural area along the Sheksna River, near the town of Kirillov. Photograph by Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky

History of Photography Podcast 7 : Tina Modotti

Tina Modotti (1896 – 1942) was an Italian photographer who was most active in Mexico between 1923 and 1930. Known for her romantic and business relationship with Edward Weston and her friendships with Diego Rivera, Frieda Kahlo and other Mexican artists, Modotti was also a political activist during the Mexican Revolution and beyond.

Links for this episode:

Tina Modotti Mexican sombrero with hammer and sickle 1927
Tina Modotti
Mexican sombrero with hammer and sickle


History of Photography Podcast 6 : Looking at Photographs

John Szarkowski’s book Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art is one of the best ways to learn not only about the history of photography, but also about photography’s aesthetics as well. Szarkowski, the former Director of the Department of Photography at MOMA from 1962 to 1991, pairs 100 photographs with a brief and insightful essay. The combination of image and text causes the reader/viewer to go back and forth and as you look at each photograph repeatedly, you add to the richness of your own viewing.

Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski - Book Jacket Image
Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski – Click to go to Amazon.com

History of Photography Podcast 5 : Gordon Parks

Photographer Gordon Parks, born 1912 and died 2006, was one of the most important figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, race relations, poverty, civil rights and honest depictions of urban life, Parks’ work provides an amazing chronicle important aspects of American urban life in the last half of the 20th century.

Links for this episode:

Gordon Parks: American Gothic, 1942
Gordon Parks: American Gothic, 1942

History of Photography Podcast 4 : James Van Der Zee

Photographer James Van Der Zee was active from the 1920s through the late 1970s, working primarily in his native Harlem neighborhood in New York city.  Through his elegant portraits and images of social, religious and athletic groups, he created an intimate narrative about his community, showing the world a part of America that was rarely seen.

Links for this episode:

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Photograph by James Van Der Zee
Jean-Michel Basquiat – Photograph by James Van Der Zee

History of Photography Podcast 3 : The Family of Man

When the exhibition The Family of Man opened in January of 1955, 60 years ago this month, visitors were greeted by more than 500 photographs and these words by the poet Carl Sandburg:

“People! Flung wide and far, born into toil, struggle, blood and dreams, among lovers, eaters, drinkers, workers, loafers, fighters, players, gamblers. Here are ironworkers, bridgemen, musicians, sandhogs, miners, builders of huts and skyscrapers, jungle hunters, landlords and the landless, the loved and the unloved, the lonely and the abandoned, the brutal and the compassionate-one big family hugging close to the ball of Earth for its life and being.”

Links for this episode:



History of Photography Podcast 2 : Lisette Model

Photographer Lisette Model, born in Vienna, Austria in 1901 and died 1983,  was an important street photographer of the early 20th century, defining much of what would be considered part of the street photographer’s aesthetic for decades to come.

The Gambler - Photograph by Lisette Model
The Gambler – Photograph by Lisette Model

History of Photography Podcast 1 : Photo History 2.0

Welcome to the History of Photography Podcast 2.0!

Having retired from my college teaching job, I’m no longer teaching the photo history class, but I have lots of other irons in the fire and want to continue the podcast with some new topics and ideas.

A complete semester of the History of Photography class will still be available online, as well as some other resources.

Links for this episode:

Photo History – Class 15 – Photograph as Document, Concept as Photograph

The 15th and final class session examines documentary and conceptual photography, looking at the motivation and rationale behind them. We also try to tie up the ideas of the course with some concluding remarks.

Photo History – Class 14 – Szarkowski: How To See

During his 29-year tenure as Director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the great curator and photographer John Szarkowski (1925 to 2007) changed the way the world saw photography.

This short class session introduces Szarkowski’s work and was followed by a film about him.

Photo History – Class 13 – The Atomic Age and New Frontiers

The middle of the 20th century was a time of tremendous change in all areas of the world and especially in the world of photography. This class session looks at the changes that photography experienced during the atomic age through an examination of the cultural, political and artistic climate of the time.

Photo History – Class 12 – The Manipulative Impulse

Is any photograph real? This question comes up as we trace the trajectory of the manipulated image in this class session. We also try to see if we can figure out where our digital photographic age is taking us and whether we want to go there.

Photo History – Class 11 – Women in Photography

Is anatomy destiny? This class session looks at women’s photography by examining the work of various female photographers as well as by looking at the bigger issue of whether the photographer’s gender changes the images that are made.

Photo History – Class 10 – Cameras Big and Small

This week, we examine photographers using large cameras and those using small cameras and try to examine the importance of the choice of tools to the photographer. Does the tool drive the idea, or the idea drive the tool?

Photo History – Class 9 – Stieglitz and the Photo Secession

One of the great characters in the history of the medium, Alfred Stieglitz was also one of the most influential photographers and promoters of photography of the 20th century. In this class, we look at Stieglitz and the group of photographers and other artists he gathered around him. We also try to examine why what Stieglitz did and what he said were often two different things.

Photo History – Class 8 – Muybridge, Marey and the Movies

Stop-motion photography as practiced by Edweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey and others is the topic of this class session. These scientific experiments ultimately led to the development of motion pictures by Edison.

Photo History – Class 7 – Stereography and Standard Subjects

A slightly shorter class session, as we cover three smaller topics: 1) the ideas surrounding stereoscopic photography, 2) the way 19th century photographers handled photographing standard subjects; once you take away subject, what other choices do photographers have to make? and 3) Rephotography: how does subject matter change over time and what does that mean for photographers?

Photo History – Class 6 – Photography and Painting

The interactive relationship that painting and photography have had for 174 years is the topic of this class session. We attempt to look at how painting influenced photography and vice-versa. We also look briefly at how what photographs “look like” influence our understanding of what they are.

Photo History – Class 5 – Photography as Transport + On The Road

Photography as a form of transportation is the topic for class #5. We look at how the advent of wet-plate collodion technology spurred the advance of travel and landscape photography, with a special emphasis on photography of the American west. There is also a brief exploration of 20th century photographers who went “on the road” as well as a look at the way 21st Century technology like Google Earth, Gigapan and Photosynth are changing the way in which we are able to see the distant parts of the globe for ourselves.

Photo History – Class 4 – Light and Likeness: Portrait Photography

The 4th class meeting starts a more conceptual approach to the medium’s history. We look at 19th, 20th and some 21st century portraits and see if we can draw some conclusions about what makes a good portrait photograph. We also see if we can draw some parallels with the words and ideas of the Transcendentalist thinkers and writers Emerson and Thoreau and see if they can help us illuminate what portraiture means.

Photo History – Class 3 – History Survey Part 2

In this second part of a two-part survey, we continue our fast trip through the history of photography, attempting to get a handle on who did what, when they did it and how it happened. We start in around 1880 and finish up in the 1990s.

Photo History – Class 2 – History Survey Part 1

Class session #2 is the first part of a two-part overview of the history of photography; a sort of “condensed” history in order to get a sense of the medium’s “who, what, when and where.” This week, we cover from 1800 B.C. to 1888 A.D.

For more information about the podcast, visit this blog page.

Photo History – Class 1 – Course Intro & Overview

In this first class session, we spend some time looking at some of the problems that the photo historian faces, including an introduction to the pioneering work of Daguerre and Fox Talbot.

Photo History – Spring 09 : Art Institute of Chicago Field Trip

Field Trip! The Photo History class visits the The Mary L. and Leigh B. Block Photography Study Room at the Art Institute of Chicago, giving us the opportunity to see original images from the history of the medium.


The Art Institute of Chicago:

Photo History Intersession – January 14

The 5th and final Photo History Intersession commemorates the anniversary of the death of 19th century photographer Charles Dodgeson. Dodgeson, better known by his writing pen name of Lewis Carroll, was an important and interesting photographer as well as an author.

Alice Liddell - Photograph by Charles Dodgeson aka Lewis CarrollAlice Liddell by Julia Margaret Cameron

Alice Liddell – Photograph by Charles Dodgeson aka Lewis Carroll (left) and Julia Margaret Cameron (right)

Click images for larger views

Photo History Intersession – January 05

The 4th Photo History Intersession looks at two rather dramatically opposed technical applications of photography: The first X-Ray image, made by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1896 and the first auroral (northern lights) photograph made by Martin Brendel in 1892.

z1 aurora1892-02-01

(left) First X-Ray image by Wilhelm Röntgen – 1896 & (right) First auroral (northern lights) photograph by Martin Brendel (1892)

Photo History Intersession – January 01

In the third History of Photography Intersession, we look at some interesting events from January first, as we commemorate the birth date of photographer William Klein, the anniversary of the death of Edward Weston, some facts about George Eastman and his inventions and the birth of the Associated Press Wirephoto.

Photo History Intersession – December 29

The second “intersession” history of photography podcast commemorates the anniversary of the death of French photographer Robert Demachy, who was active around the turn of the 20th century, as photography was trying to find its artistic self.

Photo History Intersession – December 20

In the first of a few “intersession” podcasts between the fall and spring semesters, we commemorate the birth date of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith (1918) and the anniversary of the death of photographer Bill Brandt (1983).

Photo History Summer School – August 22

We bring the summer school sessions to a close with a rememberance of the 100th birthday of the great photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Hyères, France, 1932”

Photo History Summer School – July 16

On this date in 1926, National Geographic Magazine published color underwater photographs; a photographic first. This wasn’t the first attempt at underwater photography, however; photographers had been taking pictures below the waves since 1856.



Photo History Summer School – July 7

Alexander Gardner photographed the hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators on July 7, 1865. This image and a pair of Gardner’s portraits of two of the men who are about to be executed are the subjects of this Photo History Summer School session.

Click on images for larger views:

Alexander Gardner - the \Alexander Gardner - Portrait of Lincoln Conspirator David HeroldAlexander Gardner - Portrait of Lincoln Conspirator Lewis Payne

Above Left: Alexander Gardner – The “cracked glass” Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, February 1865

Above Center: Alexander Gardner – Portrait of Lincoln Conspirator David Herold

Above Right: Alexander Gardner – Portrait of Lincoln Conspirator Lewis Payne (AKA Lewis Powell – his original name)

Alexander Gardner - The Hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators

Above: Alexander Gardner – The Hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators, July 7, 1863

Photo History Summer School – July 5

Powerful and horrific photographs of the effects of the Battle of Gettysburg by Timothy O’Sullivan and Alexander Gardner are the subject of today’s Photo History Summer School.

Click Images for a larger view

Timothy O\'Sullivan - A Harvest of Death - July, 1863

Above: Timothy O’Sullivan – A Harvest of Death – July, 1863

Alexander Gardner - The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, July, 1863

Above: Alexander Gardner – The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, July, 1863

Photo History Summer School – June 8

In this summer school session, we explore two remarkable photographers; the Vietnamese photojournalist Nick Ut whose best-known image was created on this date and the Chinese pictorial master Don Hong-Oai, who died on this date in 2004.


Links for this session:

Photo History Summer School – May 30

Today’s summer school session is all about color.

On this date in 1904, The Parisian brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière presented their patented color photographic process, the Autochrome, to the French Academy of Sciences. The Autochrome was the first commercially feasible color photographic process; the first time photographers could reliably produce color images.

This is date is also the birthday of one of the great color photographers of the 20th century, Pete Turner. Turner, born in 1934 in Albany, New York, has had a long history of using color as subject. His photographs contain raw, punchy often startling color and have been like that since long before it was fashionable to do so.

Some Autochrome and Pete Turner images:


Some links for this session

Photo History Summer School – May 25

In today’s May 25th edition of Photo History Summer School, we note the birth dates of the avant garde Cech photographer Jaroslav Rossler and the oddly surrealistic American photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard as well as the anniversary of the death of the preeminant war photographer Robert Capa.

Some images by Rossler, Meatyard and Capa:


Photo History Summer School – May 23

Cornell Capa, the photojournalist and tireless advocate of humanistic photography died today, May 23, 2008. He was 90 years old. A great and committed photographer, Capa’s heartfelt images were often overshadowed by two other elements in his life. One was the photography of his brother, the pre-eminent war photographer Robert Capa. The other was the founding and early management of the International Center for Photography (ICP) in New York, considered by many to be one of the most important photographic resources in the world.

Photographs (below) by Cornell Capa – click to enlarge

Photo History Summer School – May 13

It’s summer, but photo history doesn’t rest… May 13th is the anniversary of the birth of Czech photography Jan Saudek (1935, Prague) and also the anniversary of the death (1980) of German photographer Otto Umbehr, known as Umbo. This “summer school” podcast briefly presents their work.

Some images by Jan Saudek & Umbo


Websites for this podcast:

Podcasts, class lectures and resources from Jeff Curto