Professorial Fellow in the History of Art

Geoffrey Batchen

  • I am Professor of the History of Art in the Faculty of History.

  • I specialise in the history of photography, with a particular focus on photography’s invention.

  • I have previously taught in Australia, the United States and New Zealand.

  • I have curated exhibitions for museums and galleries all around the world.

Geoffrey Batchen


I teach an undergraduate class in History of Art about the invention of photography. I teach a class for MSt students on methods of art history, and another about the challenges that attend the writing of histories of photography. I supervise doctoral students wanting to write about photography.


I primarily write about the history of photography, but this is a wide field of inquiry, encompassing, for example, both the conception of the photograph in the late eighteenth century and contemporary art practice. I have just completed a book about the role of the negative in photography’s history, an excuse to engage with the problem of the photograph’s reproducibility and the ramifications of that for modern life. Previous projects have looked at the history of the cameraless photograph, at the function of vernacular photographs, and at the multiple inventions of photography in the early nineteenth century. All my work is ultimately about the politics of identity: the identity of photography, of those who photograph, and of the history that seeks to tell the story of both. I am also very interested in exhibition making as a creative practice, having curated exhibitions for museums and galleries in Brazil, Australia, the United States, the Netherlands, the UK, Iceland, Japan, Germany and New Zealand. I am currently working on an exhibition about the early history of British photography for the Bodleian Library, and hope to publish a book on the same topic. The next challenge after that? Perhaps an historical novel.

Selected Publications

Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph (New York: DelMonico/Prestel, 2016)

Apparitions: Photography and Dissemination (Sydney/Prague: Power Publications, University of Sydney + Nakladatelství Akademie múzických umění v Praze, 2018)

Negative/Positive: A History of Photography (London: Routledge, 2020)

Afterword: Media and History of Photography in Parallel Lines,’ with Lisa Gitelman, in Nicoletta Leonardi and Simone Natale eds, Photography and Other Media in the Nineteenth Century (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018), 205-212

‘Entirely Modern: Early British Photography,’ in Quentin Bajac et al. eds, Photography at MoMA 1840-1920 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2017), 20-23

‘Afterword: Failure, Glorious Failure,’ in Kris Belden-Adams ed., Photography and Failure (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 211-221

Professor Batchen

I believe that, to be effective, histories must be written strategically, in response to a specific set of parameters: if, that is, you want your history to contribute to a change agenda, if you want your history to make a difference, to be different.