British photographic history

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PhD Studentship: What can a woman do with a camera? Women and the practice of studio portraiture, 1890s–1960s

This project aims to explore the rich history of studio portraiture practiced by women in the UK from the 1890s to the 1960s. In 1890 it is claimed that only one woman ran a leading London West End photography business. By 1911 the number of women employed in the photographic industry had reached over five thousand, offering women newfound independence through the profession of photography. This CDA offers an opportunity to explore the careers of professional women photographers in the commercial sector in this period, and the consequences of their work for British social and cultural history. The project will explore how studio photography develops alongside evolving ideas about the role women were to play in British society. The research will also reflect upon the ways in which women photographers have contributed to and fundamentally changed the practice of studio portraiture.

The National Portrait Gallery’s outstanding Photographs Collection will be a key resource. The student will have unique access to substantial collection holdings of portraits by women studio photographers practicing at the turn of the century in Britain, and early to mid-twentieth century studio portraitists. This visual material is supplemented by letters and correspondence, period magazines and journals held in the Heinz Archive and Library.

The student will be encouraged to pursue his/her own original line of inquiry and to decide the scope of their chosen research, both in terms of the timescale and geographical reach, and the key practitioners to research. The student will engage with a set of research questions, agreed with the supervisors, which explore the subject in its historical and art historical context.

Areas of particular interest include: the economic and sociological factors specific to British women that impacted the development of studio photography; the education of women photographers; networks of professional women photographers in the UK and abroad; the changing economic base for photographic portraiture, notably in the shift from high society to high street; the evolving conventions and iconography of studio portraiture as practiced by women; unpacking the gendered dynamics of the gaze; the studio as a space for the construction of identities; and the ways in which gender identities have been undermined through the practice of studio portraiture.

The supervisors of this project are Lucy Soutter, Ph.D., Principal Lecturer, Photography (University of Westminster) who specialises in the history and theory of photography, with research interests in portraiture, staging and women’s studies, and Phillip Prodger, PhD, Head of Photographs (National Portrait Gallery) who leads the Gallery’s photographic exhibitions and displays programme, and oversees the Gallery’s Collection of photographs.

This studentship offers a fully-funded research project, with unparalleled access to the extensive visual and archival resources of the National Portrait Gallery. The student will be offered practical work-based training in collections and curatorial practice; be encouraged to contribute to the NPG’s Staff Research Seminar programme and to other staff and student training sessions; prepare interpretative text for the NPG website and for collection objects; and propose one or more displays for the NPG galleries. Sector specific training will be provided by the Thames Consortium to develop skills relevant to working in museums and galleries and the student will participate in training provided by the University of Westminster.

We seek applications from outstanding postgraduate students for this collaborative doctoral award, which will begin in September 2017. The studentship will last for three years, with an option to apply for a further 6 months funded under the AHRC’s Student Development Fund. Part time award holders will be funded for a maximum period of 6 years.

A maintenance grant of £14,553 p.a. for full-time study will be paid by the AHRC to the award holder, subject to eligibility criteria. The studentship includes an additional six months of funding from the AHRC’s Student Development Fund, which can (subject to agreement) be used to support appropriate training or a placement based on the student’s individual training needs. The AHRC will make an additional, one-off annual maintenance payment of £550 to cover the special costs of working at two sites. The National Portrait Gallery will also provide up to £1,000 per year for three years (subject to agreement) to support the student’s research-related expenses.

The Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media (CREAM) is the UK’s leading centre for research in art and design. The UK’s 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) ranked CREAM as one of the top three art and design departments in the UK and number one in the field of UK arts departments with research profiles across both theory and practice.  With over 60 doctoral students and more than 30 research active staff, CREAM is a leading provider of both practice-based and theoretical PhD research in photography, film, moving image, digital and experimental media, ceramics, visual art, music, and art-science relationships. We are highly international with research expertise in South and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and European media arts. Our students undertake practice-based and theoretical research in contemporary art and in arts and media history. 

Read more here:

Eligible candidates will hold at least an upper second class honours BA degree and preferably a Masters degree. Candidates whose secondary level education has not been conducted in the medium of English should also demonstrate evidence of appropriate English language proficiency normally defined as 6.5 in IELTS (with not less than 6.0 in any of the individual elements).  For entry requirements, please visit

Please note that the studentships are not available to applicants who already have a PhD or who are currently enrolled on a doctoral programme at Westminster or elsewhere.

Prospective candidates wishing to informally discuss an application should contact Sabina Jaskot-Gill, Associate Curator, Photographs, at the National Portrait Gallery, or Dr Lucy Soutter at the University of Westminster,

The closing date for applications is 5pm 9 June 2017.

Interviews will take place on 20 June 2017.

For further information, including how to apply, please visit

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