Course spotlight: ARS 250 – History of Photography

August 16, 2022 · 3 min read · By ASU Online
Arizona State University's ARS 250 covers a range of topics, including the general history of photography and the contributions of women photographers. Read on and watch to learn more about this ASU Online course.

Course description: ARS 250 – History of Photography

Photography is ubiquitous today, but its history is relatively brief — and utterly vibrant. In ARS 250, you’ll explore the evolution of modern photography, diving into the history of the medium from its inception in 1839 through World War II, and touching on key photographers — Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, to name a few. Throughout the course, you’ll take advantage of the rich photographic resources available online, especially those of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

ARS 250 covers a range of topics, including the general history of photography, Arizona photography and more broadly that of the American West, plus the many contributions of female photographers.

How you’ll learn

You’ll study the history of photography through video, textbooks and other mediums. Expect to take 15 quizzes and three exams throughout the course. The online nature of the class makes it flexible: You can check in when you want, you have a whole day to take the exams and multiple weeks for the quizzes — and retakes are possible.

Fahlman makes a point to showcase various voices throughout the curriculum to give students a range of viewpoints and images to study. For example, she has a set of 14 videos that feature some of the most influential figures in photography, including Doris Ulmann, who is known for her depictions of Appalachian culture, World War II photographer Lee Miller and landscape photographer Evelyn Cameron.

The class also explores photography through other artistic mediums — for example, live readings of the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” which offers a dramatic interpretation of the images seen in photographs from the Crimean War.


Your instructor: Betsy Fahlman

ASU professor Betsy Fahlman speaks to a student while standing next to a painting.

With Betsy Fahlman, you’ll start the journey through photography’s history at the very beginning.

“We know when it started. It was announced in France in 1839. We don’t know when painting was invented, we don’t know when sculpture was invented, but photography is essentially a modern medium that transformed how artists work,” she says. “And it took a long time before photography was accepted as a fine art equal to that of painting and sculpture.”

Fahlman, a specialist in European and North American art history whose research spans the late 19th century to 1945, is particularly focused on female artists, American modernism and the history of art in the American Southwest, including Arizona.


What makes the History of Photography course special

With the breadth of topics covered in ARS 250, Fahlman believes the class will strengthen students’ overall education, even those who aren’t art majors, because the learnings have universal implications.

“For instance, students interested in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood will learn about the photographers who were part of it, such as Julia Margaret Cameron. And if students are interested in the history of technology, they’ll enjoy learning about the various photographic processes that were developed over the years,” she says. Case in point: the photographic process called daguerreotype. Did you know that it was dangerous? You actually needed to heat mercury vapor to create the image!


What you’ll get out of ARS 250

“If you’re going to work in a very contemporary medium, like video or digital photography, you 
really need to know what happened before you came on board so that you have a sense of history,” Fahlman says. “The class is a constant history of technology.”

Fahlman also hopes the class will help students absorb and analyze images in our highly visual era.

“Photography is omnipresent. Everybody takes pictures with their iPhones,” Fahlman says. Studying the history of photography teaches you how to think critically about all of this imagery.

Learn about representation and identity in photography

In ASU Online’s Representation and Identity in Photography course, learn about how culture and society are influenced by images. You’ll gain an understanding of your responsibility and power in capturing the experiences of different communities.


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