6th Edition

Photography A Critical Introduction

Edited By Liz Wells Copyright 2022
    488 Pages 117 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    488 Pages 117 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Now in its sixth edition, this seminal textbook examines key debates in photographic theory and places them in their social and political contexts. Written especially for students in further and higher education and for introductory college courses, it provides a coherent introduction to the nature of photographic seeing.

    Individual chapters cover:

    • Key debates in photographic theory and history

    • Documentary photography and photojournalism

    • Personal and popular photography

    • Photography and the human body

    • Photography and commodity culture

    • Photography as art.

    This revised and updated edition includes new case studies on topics such as: Black Lives Matter and the racialised body; the #MeToo movement; materialism and embodiment; nation branding; and an extended critical discussion of landscape as genre.

    Illustrated with over 100 colour and black and white photographs, it features work from Bill Brandt, Susan Derges, Rineke Dijkstra, Fran Herbello, Hannah Höch, Mari Katayama, Sant Khalsa, Karen Knorr, Dorothea Lange, Susan Meiselas, Lee Miller, Ingrid Pollard, Jacob Riis, Alexander Rodchenko, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall.

    A fully updated resource information, including guides to public archives and useful websites, full glossary of terms and a comprehensive bibliography, plus additional resources at routledgetextbooks.com/textbooks/9780367222758/ make this an ideal introduction to the field.


    1. Thinking about photography: debates, historically and now

    Derrick Price and Liz Wells

    2. Surveryors and surveyed: photography out and about

    Derrick Price

    3. 'Sweet it is to scan...': personal photographs and popular photography

    Patricia Holland

    4. The subject as object: photography and the human body

    Michelle Henning with Carole Baker

    5. Spectacles and illusions: photography and commodity culture

    Anandi Ramamurthy

    6. On and beyond the white walls: photography as art

    Liz Wells



    From analogue to digital

    Photography archives



    Liz Wells is Professor Emeritus in Photographic Culture, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business, University of Plymouth, UK.

    "More than 20 years after its original publication, Photography: A Critical Introduction remains a key go-to text for photography students. This new edition sees canonical case studies such as Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother joined by new material on #MeToo and Black Lives Matter securing the book’s place as an important resource for students interested in exploring photography in its social and political contexts."

    Sally Miller, Senior Lecturer Photography, University of Brighton, UK

    "In its sixth edition, the Critical Introduction remains at the top of any booklist for students of photography. True to its aim, it introduces the principal concepts and debates for photography history, theory and practice, with plenty of examples and accessible analyses. Updated for a photography that has thoroughly assimilated digital technology, it provides insightful and critical overviews of the developing approaches to understanding and using photography in response to its ubiquitous availability and to changes in theoretical thinking."

    Jane Tormey, Author of Routledge Companion to Photography Theory; Cities and Photography; Photographic Realism: late twentieth-century aesthetics

    Praise for previous editions:

    "Liz Wells’ book provides an excellent point of entry into the complex theoretical terrain of photography studies, guiding students through critical debates towards an informed understanding of key domains of photographic practice. First published in the 1990s, Photography: A Critical Introduction has established itself as an essential introduction; written in an accessible style, it consolidates the critical literature on photography that has emerged over recent decades, and helps the reader to navigate this extensive and growing field of study." 

    Darren Newbury, Professor of Photographic History, University of Brighton, UK

    "The boundaries of contemporary photography are becoming difficult to define while its past is becoming more complicated than we ever imagined. Wells' book is an extraordinary attempt to hold it all together and guide us through."

    David Campany, Reader in Photography, University of Westminster, UK

    "Bravo to Liz Wells who has done it again with her new edition. It is a must for both educators and students."

    Ann Chwatsky, photographer and educator, New York University, USA

    "A brilliantly designed book. It provides a much-needed conceptual perspective, so lacking in other histories of photography, and with the new material on photojournalism [the book] is even stronger." 

    Ulrich Keller, University of California at Santa Barbara, USA

    "Bravo to Liz Wells for putting together such a comprehensive critical introduction. Lucid, smart and well illustrated, this will be a "must read" for every serious student of the medium." 

    Deborah Bright, Professor of Photography and Art History, Rhode Island School of Design, USA

    "An essential purchase. It raises awareness of the main contemporary issues related to photographic practice."

    Howard Riley, Swansea Institute of Higher Education, UK

    "A timely revision of a great book. It is invaluable in setting the stage for critical research in photography...A substantial contribution to the critical study of photography." 

    Professor Lynne Bentley-Kemp, Rochester Institute of Technology, USA

    "Precisely the kind of book I have been yearning to see appear for a long time. Carefully structured, it fulfils the need for a critical theory text for FE, HE and introductory college courses." 

    Nicky West, University of Northumbria at Newcastle, UK

    "Ideal for stimulating discussions on the critical use of photographic images and their evaluation. It is ideal for teaching this part of my BTEC Media and BTEC Art and Design courses." 

    Ken Absalom, Gwent Tertiary College, UK

    "Well structured – each chapter is thorough and relevant. The quality of the finish is superb – lovely photos and good use of margin notes."

    Richard Swales, Roade School, Northampton, UK