The Photography and Image Research Group

The Photography and Image Research Group addresses the changing nature of images and image-making in contemporary culture. It takes an interdisciplinary approach to research that encompasses the digital humanities, digital technology, creative practice and critical theory. Our emphasis is on thinking about and restating the cultural value of contemporary images and image-making in the digital age.

Part of our understanding of images is informed by practice and many of our researchers are image-makers in some form. What drives their research is thinking about how work is made and what that work then does, how it operates and what agency it has. What motivates many of our projects is the fusion of thinking and making as activities that are not distinct but that inform one another.

Our focus extends to image in all its current contemporary forms. It considers as points of interest: moving and still images, film and television, virtual and augmented reality, immersive technologies, interactive media, 3D environments, along with the streaming and distribution of images. Much of our analysis operates at the intersections between these forms and their relationship to the social, political and philosophical dimensions of contemporary experience.

Our foundations

The photography and image research group, based in the Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts, directly draws on Birmingham’s own connection to photography. It is also inspired by the city’s innovative development of a cultural studies programme at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Research in the 1960s.

In 1839 Birmingham was at the forefront of advances in technology that would go on to revolutionize the way the world is experienced, recorded, represented and understood. British scientist Henry Fox Talbot presented his photographic prints at the Exhibition of the Illustrations of Manufactures, Inventions and Models, Philosophical Apparatus which took place at King Edward’s School in Birmingham. Today, Birmingham continues to be a key location for national and international trade shows and exhibitions. This connection to the principle of exhibiting new ideas will be a central feature of our research activities. Our research will be led by ideas and exploration of different kinds of image-making practices.

Around 120 years after the first exhibition of photography in Birmingham, in 1962 the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Research was established at Birmingham University. The centre played a critical role in developing cultural studies in the UK and internationally. The academic influence of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Research was hugely significant and its successes motivate the spirit of the new photography research hub because photography is central to understanding our visual culture.

It is our ambition to pioneer new approaches to the study and understanding of an expanded notion of the subject of photography. Borrowing from Richard Hoggart’s opening address at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Research back in 1962, it is clearly time for photography, as an academic discipline, to ‘come into a relation with its age.’ Therefore, a core aim of our research will be to contribute a working and evolving response to this statement. We are keen to think about research as part of creative process. What motivates us is the exploration of how theory can enrich and offer new insights into creative practice and lived experience. Research is often misunderstood as being the preserve of traditional science subjects, but in common with scientific research activities, creative practice also derives from a process of questioning and investigation. In the spirit of research creation, our activities will aim to support academics, artists and practitioners and help them to develop their respective disciplines. Bringing together academics, artists and thinkers who engage with research and discussion around an expanded notion of the subject of photography, we will consider what photography is becoming.