Students taking art history or studio art courses may be required to write a research paper on a number of topics regarding photography. Photography is a broad discipline that offers a variety of subjects to explore. Your paper may include both historical and stylistic analysis. You can choose to write about the historical significance of a photographer or movement, discuss types of photos or move out further into the social or cultural significance of photography.
History of Photography
Papers on the history of photography can explore the extensive technical and conceptual developments of the medium of photography since its invention in 1839. You can detail the origin of a particular innovation or process and focus on its historical significance, or analyze the views and uses of photography during a certain time period. Your paper might explore the origin and use of the camera obscura, an ancient optical device that anticipates the modern camera. You might focus on their significance in creating the first photographs. You also may wish to discuss the dramatic stylistic changes in photographs from Realism in the 19th century to Modernism in the 20th century.
Research papers critically analyzing the background and work of a particular photographer often can become fascinating projects. Influential photographers, such as Diane Arbus or Ansel Adams, have made huge contributions to the medium of photography. Some photographers you may research may have had a vast impact on society and culture, while others may have influenced the practices of photography itself. Your paper might focus on the technical innovations of George Eastman and the Kodak "Brownie" camera, which was the first camera to use film instead of plates. Alternately, you may be interested in detailing the influence of Dorothea Lange's photographs of unconventional historical subjects such as the migrant farmers of the Great Depression or of Japanese internment camps.
Types of Photographs
Each type or genre of photograph involves a different technique and set of skills in order to produce an effective photo. Exploring the various types of photographs, detailing the technique, procedures or stylistic effect, can give you a large number of topics for your paper. You may wish to write a paper discussing the genre of portraiture, and the effects of varying the direction or intensity of light on the subject. You also may wish to write a paper on the particular techniques of contemporary fashion photography and its use in advertising.
Photography, Culture and Society
Since its beginnings, photography has incited debates over its use and misuse in society. The camera often assists in the construction and communication of cultural memory, history and identity. Research papers analyzing the photograph's ability to document and witness would have a great deal of resource materials, and would involve thinking critically about philosophy and ethics as well. A paper might be written on the impact on society of photographs of concentration camp victims or the atomic bomb aftermath during World War II, or a discussion of the ethics behind the voyeuristic photojournalism of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.
- University of Texas Austin School of Journalism: A Cultural History of Photography
- The History Place: Dorothea Lange
- Encyclopedia Britannica: History of Photography
- ToddStewartPhotography.net: History of Photography 1945-Present
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Camera Obscura
- Kodak.com: History of Kodak 1878-1929
- TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images