The Origins of War Photography


How can photographs help us to understand the history of warfare? This afternoon of talks covers the origins of war photography and its early practices, exploring how the invention of the photographic camera in the nineteenth century forged new ways of seeing conflict and its human costs.

How did the photographic image begin to shape perceptions of war? What can photographic albums reveal about the experience of conflict? And what ethical issues are raised by the practice of taking photographs of violence for public consumption?

With a range of speakers, these talks consider the value of photographic archives for shedding light on global histories of warfare, seeking to expand popular conceptions of what a ‘war photograph’ looks like, as well as how we should think (and feel) about these images.

‘The Origins of War Photography’ coincides with the Photo Oxford Festival 2023, 'The Hidden Power of the Archive' (14 April-6 May), giving you the opportunity to visit other events and activities in Oxford.

Topics covered:

  • The origins of war photography in the Crimean War (1853-56)
  • The role of the camera in Britain’s colonial wars, c. 1857-1900
  • Photographic albums from the First World War (1914-1918)
  • The nature of photographic evidence and the future of research into photographic archives






This course will close for enrolment 2 days prior to the start date

Programme details

12.45pm: Registration at Rewley House reception

1.00pm: Introduction by Sean Willcock

1.15pm: 'The Studio of Battle’: Roger Fenton’s Photographic Van in Context
James Hall 

1.45pm: Photography, Warfare, and the British Empire, c. 1857-1900
Sean Willcock

2.15pm: Q&A

2.30pm: Tea/coffee break

3.00pm: Photographing the Wounded during the First World War: From the Medical to the Persona
Beatriz Pichel 

3.30pm: How Victorian Photographers Taught Me How to Photograph Conflict
Simon Norfolk

4.00pm: Q&A

4.45pm: Panel Discussion

5.15pm: Concluding words by Sean Willcock

5.30pm: Course disperses


Description Costs
Tuition fee (includes tea/coffee) £55.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit or are a full-time student in the UK you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Prof James Hall


Research Professor, University of Southampton

Dr Sean Willcock


Sean is a Departmental Lecturer in the History of Art and Course Director for the Certificate, and Diploma in History of Art in the Department for Continuing Education at the Oxford University. He was previously a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, and has held teaching positions at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Hong Kong, and on the Yale in London programme. Sean’s interests span art, photography and print culture in the long nineteenth century, with a particular focus on the visual legacies of the British Empire. He is Reviews Editor at the journal History of Photography. His first book, Victorian Visions of War and Peace: Violence, Sovereignty and Empire, c. 1851-1900, was published with Yale University Press in 2021.

Dr Beatriz Pichel


Associate Professor, De Montfort University

Simon Norfolk