Birmingham City University brings together academics, artists and industry thinkers who engage with research and discussion around an expanded notion of the subjects of film, photography and digital image technology. Based in the Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts and orientated toward the future, we consider technology’s role in understanding the development of contemporary photography and image-making. The emphasis of the research will be on thinking and restating the cultural value of images and image-making. Our ambition is that our research will shape ideas contributing to a new understanding of photography, in the twenty-first century.

Research Group is underpinned by BCU’s 5-year strategic partnership with the British Film Institute. The partnership was formed in 2021 as part of a scheme that the BFI launched to collaborate with educational institutions that can demonstrate strengths in film education, research, innovation and film-based activism. Other partners in the scheme include the University of Cambridge, The National Film School and King’s College London.

Some of the key developments that emerge from BCU’s partnership with the BFI include:

  • The integration of the BFI Player as an educational resource within all of BCU’s BA and MA film courses
  • The development of BA/MA placements and secondments within named BFI departments.
  • The development of new MA and MRes awards that fit both BCU’s course profile and the BFI’s inclusion and diversity criteria.
  • The development of short course and summer course film provision for community groups, film entrants and midcareer professionals.
  • The development of new research initiatives that enhance film research, research-led education and innovation agendas for the institution and the wider region. 

All BFI partnership objectives to be developed through the Film, Photography and Digital Image Research Group, whose membership comprises: x 2 Profs, 1 x Associate Profs with the remainder of the group composed of an even split between ECRs, PhD students and industry affiliates. Membership is defined across three categories: Researcher (staff who carry research active status), PhD Student (designating either staff or students undertaking doctoral research) and Industry Partner (staff/external members who attend the group on the basis of their external expertise and status).

In 2022, the Film, Photography and Digital Image Research Group also  appointed Roger Shannon as a Visiting Professor in British Cinema Industries, and he will be working with the group to develop a range of new research projects and public access events around the following areas of activity:

  • Research that provides new ways of thinking about film and photographic traditions, representations, audiences and institutions.
  • Practice as research activities that use film, photography and the digital image to expand the boundaries of creativity and knowledge in the subject area. 
  • Knowledge exchange, industry or innovation projects within the subject area that enhance external partnerships.
  • Community-based, third sector or activist organisations that employ film, photography and the digital image as part of their working practices.
  • Festivals that provide new ways of understanding exhibition or curatorial practices.
  • Pedagogic practices that use film, photography and the digital image to enhance research-led teaching. 

Underpinning our enquiry is the way we think, specifically, about practice and research. We do not aim to bring them together, to make sense of them by thinking of them in an interchangeable way nor do we try to unify them. Instead, what we aim to do is recognise and highlight the distinctions between them both. This means we make no attempt to connect practice with research and research with practice by highlighting the way they link together. Rather, our goal is always to try and abstract them from one another in order to understand each of them better. 

For more information on the Film, Photography and Digital Image Research Group’s activities contact:

Professor Xavier Mendik


Associate Professor John Hillman


I am interested in philosophical approaches to contemporary culture and understanding how images and media technologies shape our experience. What unifies my interests is the exploration of how theory can enrich and offer new insights to creative practice and lived experience.

Dr John Hillman
Director of the Film, Photography & Digital Image Research Group

Practice is not research simply because it emanates from a process of discovery, it is research when it is situated within a matrix of new knowledge.