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MA in Photography & Urban Cultures

This programme has been developed by the Centre for Urban and Community Research in response to the increasing interest in urban theory and the visual representation of urban cultures and places.

About the department
Sociology

Length
1 year full-time or 2 years part-time.
Funding
If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for home/EU applicants, or funding for international applicants.

We're offering two full Sociology Postgraduate StudentshipsAlumni Partial Fee Waivers and Excellence Partial Fee Waivers¬†for 2014 entry

You may also be eligible for the Kirsty McColl Scholarship

Fees
See our tuition fees.
Further information

Convenor
Paul Halliday, Sociology

Contact the department
Contact the Postgraduate Programmes Officer
Visit us
Find out about how you can visit Goldsmiths at one of our open days or come on a campus tour.

It is designed to encourage creative interplay between practice and theory; you will have the chance to consider cutting-edge debates in cultural and social theory in a research setting that actively encourages the development of photographic practice.

The programme offers working photographers, visual artists and media practitioners space to reflect critically on their practice.

It also offers those with a background in sociology, urban and cultural geography, cultural studies or anthropology the opportunity to combine visual forms of representation with standard forms of research techniques in investigating urban life and the physical environments of the city.

What you study

See the courses tab for detailed information about the courses you'll study. 

Assessment

Essays; dissertation; final visual project.


Applying and entrance requirements

You can apply directly to Goldsmiths via the website by clicking the ‘apply now’ button on the main programme page.

Before submitting your application you’ll need to have: 

  • Details of your education history, including the dates of all exams/assessments;
  • The email address details of your referee who we can request a reference from, or alternatively an electronic copy of your academic reference;
  • A personal statement. This can either be uploaded as a Word Document or PDF, or completed online;
  • If available, an electronic copy of your educational transcript (this is particularly important if you have studied outside of the UK, but isn’t mandatory);
  • An edited portfolio of visual images (via digital link, CD-ROM, Powerpoint, PDF of prints).

You'll be able to save your progress at any point and return to your application by logging in using your username/email and password.

When to apply

We accept applications from October for students wanting to start the following September. 

We encourage you to complete your application as early as possible, even if you haven't finished your current programme of study. It's very common to be offered a place that is conditional on you achieving a particular qualification. 

If you're applying for funding you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for UK/EU students and international students. 

Late applications will only be considered if there are spaces available.

Selection process

Admission to many programmes is by interview, unless you live outside the UK. Occasionally, we'll make candidates an offer of a place on the basis of their application and qualifications alone.

Entrance requirements

You should have (or expect to be awarded) an undergraduate degree of at least second class standard in a relevant/related subject. You will also need to demonstrate proficiency in photographic practice, including familiarity with a 35mm camera and photographic printing. 

You might also be considered for some programmes if you aren’t a graduate or your degree is in an unrelated field, but have relevant experience and can show that you have the ability to work at postgraduate level.

We also accept a wide range of international equivalent qualifications, which can be found on our country-specific pages. If you'd like more information, please contact the Admissions Office.

English language

If your first language is not English, you normally need a minimum score of 7.0 in IELTS (including 7.0 in the written element) or equivalent. 

Please check our English language requirements for more information.

Find out more about applying 

Contact us 

Get in touch via our online form

UK/EU

+44 (0)20 7919 7766
course-info@gold.ac.uk

International (non-EU)

+44 (0)20 7919 7702
international-office@gold.ac.uk

Staff profiles

Paul Halliday

Anja Kanngieser

Rachel Jones  

 

Workshop tutors

Laura Cuch

Simon Rowe

Britt Hatzius
Britt Hatzius is a visual artist whose practice encompasses photography, film, video and sound. She originally trained as an artist at Chelsea College of Art and Goldsmiths where she completed her MA in Photography and Urban Cultures. Britt teaches on the MA PUC course and PhD in Visual Sociology. She has extensive experience of working with urban ethnographers and researchers, is part of Studio INCITE, and has coordinated various visual research aspects of numerous international projects based at Goldsmiths. She is the former editor of London Independent Photography (LIP) magazine and currently edits the CUCR’s journal Street Signs. www.britthatzius.co.uk 

Peter Coles
After finishing a doctorate in psychology at Wolfson College, Oxford, Peter Coles moved to Paris where he worked as a journalist and photographer for 20 years, completing a major body of work called Paris Traces on abandoned objects, which has been exhibited in Paris, New York and Rome and has featured in several magazines. He now lives in London as a writer, editor and fine art photographer. He is working on a book on ancient urban trees and socio-geographical change. Since 2007 Peter has been a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths, University of London, where he also teaches on the M.A. in Photography and Urban Cultures, with a special focus on the relationship between built and natural environments.

For further information on the staff and research profile of the Department of Sociology, visit the Sociology Department staff pages.

Core courses

Code Module title Credits
SO71042B Navigating Urban Life 30 CATS

This course addresses significant issues in the contemporary organisation of urban landscapes, urban life and connections between cities as well as the interface between human and architectural fabric. Drawing on specific empirical examples in based in China, Hong Kong, the US, London and parts of mainland Europe this course examines key debates in urban sociology and research. There is a strong focus on visual apprehension of cities and ways of accessing and researching cities through photography.   The following sessions have been offered in previous years: 

  • A tour of 'urban theory' from the Chicago School to the present day. This sets up the conceptual basis for the session following which, although empirically focused on specific cities, illuminate different conceptual frameworks for understanding urbanism.
  • Whose City? This examines debates concerned with the social production of space and rights to the city. An examination of ghetto urbanism in the US through Wacquant, Bourdieu, Bourgeois and the research through which this kind of urban knowledge is generated.
  • Pastness and Urban Landscape. This examines discrepant and linear notions of time/interpretations of pastness, collective memory, and how pasts are inscribed within urban landscapes. We will draw mainly on visually-led investigation of Hong Kong and London to explore these themes.
  • Post-Colonial Cities. This session examines the intersections between globalisation and colonialism in Hong Kong and in the lives of ‘skilled’ migrants from the global North. It makes extensive use of photographic narratives of Hong Kong as an iconic city landscape and the use of environmental portraiture to capture migrants’ relationships to the city.
  • Globalisation, Migration and Urban Life. Drawing on visual empirical research on mosques and African churches in London this session examines the impact of recent and current migration on commerce, religion and city landscape. It sets this in broader debates about globalisation and cities developed from the previous session.
  • Material Cultures and Multiple Globalisations. This session draws on some of the more ordinary trajectories of commodities and collaborations composing the global world through small trade between China/Hong Kong and Africa, and Europe and Africa. 
  • Mega-Cities and Non-City Zones. This session is set in China. It examines architecture, the generic city, land speculation and the dynamics between mega-cities and economic and technical development zones through some of the lives that are lived in them.
  • Urban Regeneration. This session examines the politics, debates, conceptualisation and social divisions generated and sustained in urban renewal projects. Who benefits from these projects? How do they reconstruct cities? We will draw specifically on Olympic-related redevelopments in Athens, London, and Beijing.
  • Architectural and Planning Politics. This session examines ways in which political and military decisions are embedded in architecture and planning. It draws on Weizman’s Hollow Land and asks questions about whether this involves a radical re-conceptualisation of space.
  • Mobilities. This session is concerned with movement and routes as well as the infrastructure and technologies of mobility such as bridges, roads, airports, stations, tunnels, trains, motor transport, and shipping. It asks critical questions about whether these approaches to space generate information about social morphology or social life more generally.

Assessment: 5-6,000 word essay

Convener: Anja Kanngeiser

SO71070C Through The Lens Part A: Imaging the City 15 CATS

This course examines the theoretical and practical relationships between urban photography and urban ethnography focusing on city environments. Through a series of interconnected lectures and seminars, the course asks questions about the nature of ‘sociological seeing’, of the relationship between walking and urban detouring, on object-hood, ‘thing-ness’ and materiality, on how the city is both imagined and imaged, and on the relationship between aesthetics and ethics. Students will be expected to read widely on the subject both from sociological and visual textual sources, and to actively relate learning to image-making processes and outcomes.

Assessment: 2,500-3,000 WORD ESSAY

SO71117A Key Debates for Inventive and Visual Practice 15 CATS

Visual sociology has taught sociology that text is not the only medium. This course introduces you to the problems of visuality and representation in sociology, beginning with classical debates in visual sociology, but including more recent debates surrounding the notions of media, translation and the studio to discuss how sociology can represent the social. The course will introduce you to the complexity of decisions to be taken in inventive sociology once the primacy of text is relinquished.

The course has two aims: first to introduce you to key fields of inventive sociology, and second to key problems of doing inventive sociology. We discuss the cooperation of sociologists with other specialists, such as photographer or videographers, the relationship between self-representations of research subjects and those of the sociologist, the problem of representing objects which are not visual or textual in nature, combining different media, and finally how to address specific audiences.

Assessment: One 2,500 WORD essay

SO71123A/SO71124A Talking Practice A and Talking Practice B 15 CATS each

The Talking Practice seminars, are designed to support the development of students’ final visual projects. The sessions focus on past, current and on-going visual projects encouraging the MA group to give and receive feedback. In the past, students have found these informal sessions very useful and use them to prepare for the FVP presentations held in the summer term. These sessions are compulsory, and all full-time and first year part-time students will be expected to give at least one presentation of self-developed visual work. Students are expected to come to the session fully prepared and to arrive early in order to load up presentations onto the laptop before the session starts. Presenters will need to confirm their slots with the seminar tutors (Rachel Sarah Jones/Paul Halliday) and this will be written into the Talking Practice schedule on the VLE.

SO71070D Through the Lens B: Urban Identities 15 CATS

This course focuses on the relationship between urban spaces and identities. Students will examine how sociological, psychological and anthropological theories of self relate to notions of culture, community, personal space and identity. The course will reference theoretical and critical sources exploring and questioning notions of selfhood and collective identity constructions such as gender, ‘race’, class, sexuality, aging and other  cultural formulations, in relation to photographic image-making. Students are encouraged to relate the theoretical readings, lectures and seminar discussions to ongoing visual and urban research practices, and where appropriate, to provide a critical framework for their own image-making.

Assessment: 2,500-3,000 essay

SO71122A Urban Photographers 15 CATS

This course will focus on a series of conversations with international photographers and artists whose visual projects relate to a critical examination of urban spaces. The speakers will reflect a wide range of practices, including landscape, portraiture, community, and other forms that relate to the developing field of urban photography and visual urbanism. The main aim of this course is to explore and reflect critically on how urban photographic practices speak to sociological, geographic and cultural debates about the nature of contemporary urban life. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the speakers’ visual projects prior to the presentations, and to use the opportunity of discussing their work within the context of critical urbanism and sociological debate. Students will select a photographer presenting during the course, or, with the agreement of the course convenor, another relevant photographer/artist, and then write a short essay reflecting on a project or wider oeuvre pertaining to that particular visual author.

Assessment: 2,500-3,000 word essay

SO71071A Dissertation and Major Visual Project 60 CATS

The Dissertation can comprise two parts: a portfolio and a 6-8,000-word dissertation. Alternatively, you may submit a 12-15,000-word written Dissertation. The Dissertation will consist of: an account of the rationale of the photographic project; a critical evaluation of photographic practice and issues of reflectivity and knowledge production. In combination with the written part you will be expected to provide evidence of a sustained and coherent body of photographic work focusing on an aspect of urban culture for assessment. Previously, work from Final Visual Projects has been shown on a virtual gallery space linked to the CUCR website.

Graduate Profile

Craig, Capital Campaign Manager, Royal Academy of Arts, freelance curator & artist

"The environment at Goldsmiths increased my confidence in my own ideas."

I'm the Project Manager of the Royal Academy of Arts' multi-million pound fundraising campaign to redevelop the historic Burlington House and 6 Burlington Gardens buildings. My role encompasses strategic planning and financial forecasting, underpinned by project management techniques. I'm also involved in encouraging philanthropists to support the campaign, which involves approaching potential funders and assisting with large-scale cultivation events.

My MA at Goldsmiths provided me with the basic project management skills I now utilise on a daily basis, along with the confidence to grapple with complex issues and tasks. These transferable skills have been invaluable to me. Alongside my role at the Royal Academy I also continue to develop my own practice and I'm working on a number of freelance curatorial projects, including a recent exhibition at Down Stairs Gallery in Hereford. The environment at Goldsmiths increased my confidence in my own ideas, which has helped me in approaching other people to become involved in bringing my ideas to fruition.

Michael, artist & part-time lecturer at Nanyang Technological University

"I really appreciated the nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment the faculty creates for students, which helps promote open exchanges and fosters the spirit of critical thinking, reflexivity, imagination and friendship."

I was an artist looking to articulate the sociological underpinning of my work when I applied for the MA in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths. It felt like I had jumped in at the deep end but I emerged feeling fulfilled and enriched. The rigour of the course gave me more than knowledge. I really appreciated the nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment the faculty creates for students, which helps promote open exchanges and fosters the spirit of critical thinking, reflexivity, imagination and friendship. This experience allowed me to realise the intimate relation and synergy between art and social science, which I have continued to explore in my work today as an artist, educator and researcher. 

Since graduating from the Masters, I have returned to Singapore to continue my art practice and worked as a part-time lecturer at various arts colleges before joining the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University in 2007, where I currently teach. I continue my relation with Goldsmiths by working with Professor Caroline Knowles on a collaborative art-sociology research project, “Invisible Life”, which investigates the complex social fabric embedded in mundane ‘flip-flops’. 

In recent years, my work has taken another sociological turn, to examine the place of the visual and artistic practices in the context of health. The training I received from the MA gave me the confidence to imagine connections between the arts and the social world. Moving forward, my aim now is to pursue a PhD to further explore relations between the arts, health and society.

Holeng

Having graduated from my BA in Graphic Communications and worked as a brand consultant in Asia, I never expected to find myself studying a full time post-graduate degree in the UK! I was a trained photojournalist with a local newspaper (The Straits Times) in 2007, and subsequently founded my own company to do commercial work while lecturing part time in a media design school. However, the work has burnt me out.

Although I had some experience in exhibiting my photography, I’d discovered that I lacked the sufficient critical understanding to advocate for my work. The MA in Photography & Urban Cultures allowed me to examine the context of my visual portfolio and begin the process of being able to champion what I had achieved. 

The Department of Sociology gave me the opportunity to be nefariously open-minded, and to explore many aspects of ideology, theory and philosophy. The course also improved my writing skills. The core modules and seminars offered a brilliant array of contemporary ideas, existential knowledge, constructive criticism and debates; they were highly informative and useful.

I was very much enlightened by my multi-national classmates during our seminar discussions, and our coffee breaks outside of the University! Although we all had different academic backgrounds, we shared a common agenda, questioning photography's relevance as a visual medium in today's society. In addition to the curriculum, the workshops that I took part in were taught by interesting and inspirational staff members who made it their personal business to polish our photographic techniques.

I would like to recognize the help and sound editorial advice of my course convenor, Mr. Paul Halliday, who was of great assistance in encouraging me to curate my first photographic exhibition (An ‘Urban’ Analogue held during the 2013 IVSA conference) in the University, and to set a new career path. I was selected for a two-month curatorial residency in Vienna and Budapest. My colleagues and I have started a new blog titled 7x8curators, writing about our engagements in the contemporary art world between the two cities. As the number of readers grows by the day, 7by8 curators become a brand, which shed new light on the much discussed socio-political scene in Hungarian art.

Thanks for providing me with the opportunity to study my Masters degree at Goldsmiths. It was a challenging and demanding year, but the satisfaction was immense; every difficult moment had an awesome end.

Collected by department

Gesche, Researcher, New York Foundation for the Arts, & visual artist

"The MA furthered my critical thinking and research skills."

The MA in Photography & Urban Cultures furthered my critical thinking and research skills, which are indispensable for the social projects and art work I’m involved in today. After graduating from the course I joined the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) as a Research Associate. Among other projects I managed "Mobilising Knowledge" over two years, which explored urban change using creative media with a group of older people. Since moving to the United States, I have focused more on my career as a visual artist. I have recently started a research job for the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA).

Michael

"Goldsmiths gave me the theoretical understanding and confidence to try something new and step off the beaten track."

"Before coming to Goldsmiths I had spent roughly 20 years working as a freelance photographer in the commercial and advertising space. I really loved the job and the great experiences it offered through travel but over the years I became increasingly aware of something missing. I had developed a deep understanding of the technical skills a photographer requires but I felt I was missing the theoretical background to bring the whole thing together. A framework and knowledge to engage on an interdisciplinary level where photographic practice and academic practice merge into critical understanding. I looked into a number of courses and singled out the MA in Photography and Urban Cultures. It was the ideal extension to my practical experience, and the fact that I could do the course part-time meant that I could continue working whilst studying.

Aside from the high academic standard of the lectures and the level of preparation behind each session, I think the thing that I valued most was the myriad of nationalities and experiences that wove themselves together in this course. It lead to some challenging and inspiring discussions around working practice and sociological research mainly influenced and fired up by the various social, political, educational, work backgrounds and experiences.

After years of market orientated work assignments I found the act of critical and freethinking inspirational and to my understanding this is the highest aim and long lasting legacy Goldsmiths could pass on. In 2012, after graduating successfully, I set up a photography gallery (Gasket-Gallery) with three likeminded friends. The aim and philosophy is to promote talented photographers who not only have a strong photographic eye and sensibility but also socially engaging works. Goldsmiths gave me the theoretical understanding and confidence to try something new and step off the beaten track."

Skills and Careers

Careers

Graduates of the programme have progressed to the following areas and careers:

  • Doctoral studies
  • Curating
  • Public relations
  • Urban planning
  • Advertising
  • Community arts
  • Education
  • Social research
  • Journalism

Skills

This MA develops skills in urban photography, visual ethnography and urban research, communications for urban planning, community arts and visual arts practice.


Suggested preliminary reading

Susan Sontag (1977) On Photography. Penguin. Sontag’s book is considered both controversial and insightful. She brings to the process of analysis a literary sensibility that doesn’t always sit easily with the practice of image-making. The essay In Plato’s Cave (chapter 1), is particularly relevant to a debate about the nature of photographic realism and visual epistemology.

Roland Barthes (1983) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, London,Vintage. Barthes is best known for his extensive theoretical work around the nature of sign systems (semiotics), ideology and myth. In this beautifully written book, the author re-evaluates his relationship with photography through the autobiographical examination of a family photograph.

A.D. Coleman (1978) Depth of Field: Essays on Photography, Mass Media, and Lens Culture. University of New Mexico Press. Coleman’s essays touch on ethical debates around street photography (chapter 10), and what he terms ‘the destruction business’ of art criticism (chapter 1).

Graham Clarke (1997) The Photograph. Oxford University Press. Clarke’s book provides a useful overview of photography from a history of art/visual culture perspective. He covers a wide range of subjects including, what is a photograph? (chapter 1), how do we read photographs? (chapter 2), the city and portraiture (chapters 5 and 6), and the body (chapter 7). There is also a good discussion on the history and theory of documentary photography (chapter 8). This book is very introductory reader.

Sarah Pink (2001) Doing Visual Ethnography. Sage. Pink’s book is a very good introduction to some of the key debates within visual sociology and anthropology. Her interdisciplinary book covers a wide range of theoretical and methodological issues, and it is recommended that you read the introduction and chapters 1 and 3 which focus on the relationship between ethnography and photography.

Les Back (2007) The Art of Listening. Berg Back’s approach to visual image-making is based on listening to both photographers and those being photographed. Rather than taking a traditional art historical position of the informed, impartial and expert observer; Back is interested to learn about how photographers interact with their social environments, and how subjects negotiate and establish photographic agency. Chapter 4, (Listening with the Eye) provides a good discussion about an extended photographic encounter in London’s East End.

Caroline Knowles and Paul Sweetman (2004) Picturing the Social Landscape: Visual Methods and the Sociological Imagination. Routledge. This is a very accessible and relevant text that introduces key concepts around photography, visual methods and the sociological imagination. The introductory chapter by Knowles and afterword by Howard Becker focus on the methodological position of photography and its claim to evidentiality. 20 

Gillian Rose (2012) Visual Methods: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Methods. Sage. Rose’s book focuses on a critical examination of how photography contributes towards researching societies and cultures. It is a useful introduction to research methods with discussions around photo-elicitation, aesthetics and ethics (chapters 4, 11 and 12). It is helpful to refer to this book in conjunction with Back, Knowles and Pink for a grounding in wider debates within ethnography and qualitative social science. 

 

Student projects

Sally Hart, a current MA Photography and Urban Cultures student, talks about her involvement in Gasket and how this photographic collective, formed of four Goldsmiths alumni, have used their experiences on the programme to form a group which has led to various exhibitions, events and workshops around the UK, with an upcoming fair in Milan.


"In March of this year, Goldsmiths approached Gasket to help curate a selection of work of alumni of the Photography and Urban Cultures Masters programme as part of the 50 Years of Sociology celebration. Our past experience with the programme in both a personal and professional capacity meant we were delighted to be a small part of such an auspicious event.

Gasket are a photographic collective who came together in 2012 through a shared love of images and the city. Our experiences with commercial and fine art photography, and the academic environment, led us to believe there was a gap in the work we were seeing exhibited. There were images that were beautiful yet told us nothing of what it was like to interact with a city, and equally we saw work which was fundamentally engaged with the urban experience yet lacked the aesthetic clarity to clearly tell a story. Gasket was formed to find and celebrate images and artists that not only make beautiful, engaging work, but images which also speak to the diverse and complex nature of the urban experience.

Part of this ethos was driven by three of the collective being past and current members of the Photography and Urban Cultures MA (PUC). Graduating in 2011 and 2014, the PUC programme instilled in us not only a strong sociological practice but also the desire to share and engage with the spaces and communities we are working in.

Our work over the last two years has taken the form of exhibitions, events and workshops, and this year we will also be attending our first art fair in Milan. We chose not to have a permanent physical space, instead selecting temporary locations for our exhibitions and events that have some connection to the work or artists that we show. Between the core team of Michael Frank, Johannes Rigal, Sally Hart and Simon Saint, we share the skills required to curate, install, administer and promote all our events and use an online platform to maintain the conversation when not exhibiting.

For the MA PUC show we selected five alumni artists for whom we have great respect and admiration: Nora Alissa, David Kendall, Gesche Würfel, Simon Rowe and Gasket's own Michael Frank. Their work explores many aspects of what we consider to be discourse critical to an understanding of the urban environment. From Würfel's "Go For Gold!" series reflecting upon the impact of the Olympics to Rowe's intimate work in Wandering Still, all the artists are working within a critical practice engaging people and the cities they live in.

Part of Gasket's ethos is to create a dialogue between the academic environment and the wider commercial and fine art sphere. Events like the MA PUC show provide a fantastic opportunity to introduce critical photography to new audiences. We strongly believe that the knowledge and practice we gained during our time at PUC is vital to developing a sustainable model and key to work such as that being exhibited becoming part of the wider debate around critical visual practice and the city."

 

 

www.gasket-gallery.com
Michael Frank
Johannes Rigal
Sally Hart
Simon Saint


Content last modified: 07 May 2014

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