6 Must-read books for photography students

Thu 7 Jul 2022

Thinking of signing up to either our MA or BA Top Up Photography courses (or already done so) and looking for ways of kickstarting your creative ideas? Module Leaders from across the two courses have each suggested a photography book that might be of interest and a good introduction to the material taught across the courses.


1. Photography: A Cultural History by Mary Warner Marien (2021)

Laurence King Publishing

Photography: A Cultural History - recommended by Jesse Alexander

Now in its fifth edition, this is a substantial and comprehensive narrative of the technical development of the medium and the evolution of its cultural applications. It’s a hefty book, but with hundreds of illustrations it’s absorbing, whether read from cover-to-cover or ‘dipped’ in and out of as you explore various themes and practices during a programme of study.

What I think is particularly helpful is how the story of photography is continually cross-referenced with myriad aspects of culture during the photographic era, including society, industry, politics, consumerism, and of course art. This book expertly describes how photography reaches into all corners of the world and every aspect of our lives. 

Buy the book


2. Photography As Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton (2020)

Thames and Hudson

Photography as Contemporary Art - recommended by Catarina Fontoura

In Photography as Contemporary Art, Cotton examines how photography has become a dynamic, multi-form art medium and how attitudes towards contemporary art photography have evolved and changed over the past decades. The revised edition includes more recent practice exposing a wider range of trends and subjects such as materiality.

The overarching argument in this book, put forward through the work of many wonderful and diverse photographers and artists, is that the medium is a ‘wonderful pluralistic creative field’ making it an essential read for all those in love with the possibilities photography presents.  

Buy the book


3. Rethinking Photography – History, Theories & Education by Smith, Peter & Lefley, Carolyn (2016)

London: Routledge

Rethinking photography: History, Theories and Education - recommended by Steph Cosgrove

Peter Smith and Carolyn Lefley closely link critical approaches to photographic practices and present a detailed study of differing historical and contemporary perspectives on social and artistic functions of the medium, including photography as art, documentary forms, advertising and personal narratives.

Rethinking Photography provides readers with an engaging mix of photographic case studies and an accessible exploration of essential theory. It is the perfect guide for students of Photography, Fine Art, Art History, and Graphic Design as well as practitioners from any background wishing to understand the place of photography in global societies today.

Richly illustrated full colour images throughout connect key concepts to real world examples.

Buy the book


4. The Networked Image in Post-Digital Culture by Andrew Dewdney and Katrina Sluis (2022)

Taylor & Francis

The Networked Image in Post-Digital Culture - Recommended by Wendy McMurdo

This collection examines how the networked image establishes new social practices for the user and presents new challenges for cultural practitioners engaged in making, curating, teaching, exhibiting, archiving, and preserving born digital objects.

This interdisciplinary collection draws upon media and cultural studies, art history, art practice, photographic theory, user design, animation, museology, and computer science as a way of making sense of the specific cultural consequences of the rapid succession of changes in image technologies and to bring the story up to date. It will be of particular interest to scholars and students of visual culture, media studies and photography.’

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5. Art and Photography by David Campany (2003)


Art and photography  - Recommended by Anna Maria Pfab

Art and Photography surveys the major presence of photography at the centre of artistic practice from the 1960s onwards. On its invention, the photograph was considered a purely mechanical, an artless object that could not be included in the fine arts. Despite its increasing use by the twentieth century’s most significant artists, only since the late 1960s have art museums gradually begun to exhibit and acquire photography as artworks in a wide range of forms and practices.

David Campany provides a comprehensive historical overview of photography’s place in twentieth-century art history. The publication also includes an extensive colour plate and duotone image section with extended captions for every artwork. Divided thematically, each chapter explores a different aspect of photography in twentieth-century culture, examining the diverse ways in which artists have explored and pushed boundaries.

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6. Photography: Race, Rights and Representation by Mark Sealy (2022)

Lawrence Wishart

Photography: Race, Rights and Representation - Recommended by Clare Bottomley

Mark Sealy’s new book Photography: Race, Rights and Representation follows on from his hugely influential Decolonising the Camera: Photography in Racial Time and continues the important work of retelling photographic history through a decolonising lens.

In this book Sealy’s takes the theory and ways of interpreting images develop in his first book and applies them on to a range of Black photographers based both in the UK and Internationally. In doing so he holds up these photographers who are often sadly excluded from the prominent narrative around photography and offers their work as a tool to create alternative understanding around the photographic image.

Within the book he combines interviews with key figures and personal reflections to explore the past, present and the future of photographic decolonial thoughts and practices.

Buy the book


Understand key elements of photography with an online degree

If you're keen to expand your knowledge of photography whilst refining practical skills, the MA in Photography and BA (Hons) Photography Top-Up are online courses you can study part-time. By equipping you with the understanding to meaningfully engage with a technologically- and socially-evolving medium, you can succeed within the increasingly complex and competitive creative industries.

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