Paul Strand. Wall Street, New York. 1915

study days

Twentieth-Century American Photography: a thematic history

  • Thursday 27 January 2022
  • Brockway Room, Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL
  • Lecturer: Ben Street

These lectures will look at twentieth-century America through the lens of its photographers. Taking a thematic rather than chronological approach, each lecture will hone in on specific images made by a diverse range of photographers, to build up a collage-like portrait of the American century.

Lecture 1 The City

The first lecture will look at how the rise of the city parallels that of photography. Works by, among others, Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks will provide a framework for thinking about cities as places of self-expression, conflict and liberation.

Lecture 2 The Land

Photographs by Ansel Adams, Tina Modotti, Edward Weston and others will be a guide to consider how photography tells a story of shifting relationships between the human and the environment.

Lecture 3 The Face

Then we will look at the photographic portrait in twentieth-century American art. Shifting ideas of national, political and personal identity can be traced in works by Diane Arbus, Nicholas Nixon, Cindy Sherman, among others.

Lecture 4 The Body

Finally we will look at images of the human body in the American setting, as a means of thinking about how photography imagines our experience of place. Works by Robert Frank, Dorothea Lange, Nan Goldin and Jeff Wall will be explored thinking about the body and its relationship with its place.


Ben Street is a freelance art historian, lecturer and writer. He lectures on modern and contemporary art for Tate, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Christie’s Education and the Royal Academy. He is the author of interpretative materials for major exhibitions at Tate, the Royal Academy and the National Gallery and has contributed essays for museum and gallery publications across the world. Ben’s recent book is How to enjoy Art.

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