Sarah Bassnett


Dr. Sarah Bassnett, Associate Professor (Art History)
Ph.D., Binghamton University, SUNY
M.A., York University
B.A., Honours, York University
B.A.A., Toronto Metropolitan (formerly Ryerson) University


Sarah Bassnett is a Professor of Art History specializing in the history of photography and photo-based contemporary art. Her research focuses on the intersections of photography and social change, especially in relation to issues of power and resistance. Her award-winning book, Picturing Toronto: Photography and the Making of a Modern City (2016), examines photography’s role in the liberal reform of the early twentieth century. Photography in Canada, 1839-1989: An Illustrated History (2023), co-authored with Sarah Parsons, is the first comprehensive book on the history of photography in Canada. 

Current Projects

Funded by a SSHRC Insight grant, Prof. Bassnett’s current research looks at how stories of late-20th and early-21st-century migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States are told through photography.   


Photography in Canada, 1839-1989: An Illustrated History, co-authored with Sarah Parsons. Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2023.  

Picturing Toronto: Photography and the Making of a Modern City. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016. Winner of the Ontario Historical Society’s J.J. Talman award and Heritage Toronto Historical Writing: Book Award.  

Selected Articles / Book Chapters / Catalogue Essays  

“Witnessing the Trauma of Undocumented Migrants in Mexico.” Contact Zones: Photography, Migration, and Cultural Encounters in the United States, ed. Justin Carville and Sigrid Lien. Ithaca; Leuven: Cornell University Press / Leuven University Press, 2021.  

 “Susan Dobson: Uneasy Beauty,” Focus Finder, curated by Sonya Blazek. Sarnia: Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery, 2021. 

 “Undocumented Migration and Political Community in Susan Meiselas’s Crossings Photographs.” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 6, no. 2 (Fall 2020).  
LIFE Magazine in Africa and the Ideology of Modernization.” photographies 13, no. 2 (2020): 273-293. 

 “Between Truth and Fiction,” Of Time and Building, 18-27, curated by Dawn Owen and Alison Nordstrom. Guelph: Art Gallery of Guelph, 2015. 

 Co-editor with Thy Phu and Andrea Noble, special issue of the journal Visual Culture on “Cold War Visual Alliances,” 30, no. 2 (June 2015). 

 “Arthur S. Goss: Photography and the Modernization of Toronto,” Arthur S. Goss: Works and Days, 16-25, curated by Blake Fitzpatrick and John Bentley Mays. Toronto: Ryerson Image Centre, 2013. 

 “Shooting Immigrants: Ethnic Difference in Early Twentieth-Century Press Photography.” The Cultural Work of Photography in Canada, 106-119. Ed. Carol Payne and Andrea Kunard. Montreal; Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011. 

 “Archive and Affect in Contemporary Photography,” Photography and Culture 2, no. 3 (November 2009): 241-252. 

 “From Public Relations to Art: Exhibiting Frances Benjamin Johnston’s Hampton Institute Photographs,” History of Photography, 32, no. 2 (summer 2008): 152-168. 


Royal Ontario Museum, The Family Camera, Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, Toronto, 6 May – 29 October 2017. Curatorial team, Deepali Dewan (Senior Curator), Jennifer Orpana, Thy Phu, Julie Crooks, and Sarah Bassnett, with the assistance of Sarah Parsons and Silvia Forni. The Family Camera Network was funded by a SSHRC Partnership Development grant (2016-19). 
City of Toronto Archives, Picturing Immigrants in the Ward: How Photography Shaped Ideas About Central and Eastern European Immigrants in Early-20th-Century Toronto, June 21, 2012 – June 5, 2013, Toronto. Curated by Sarah Bassnett and Patrick Mahon and funded by a SSHRC Standard Research grant. 


PhD in Art and Visual Culture - Supervisor

2022 Katie Oates 

2019 Jessica Cappuccitti  

2015 Jennifer Orpana 

2012 Matthew Ryan Smith 

PhD in Art and Visual Culture - Committee Member/ Second Reader

2021 Stephanie Anderson 

2019 Tom Baynes 

2016 Michael Farnan 

2015 Trista Mallory 

2014 Colin Miner 

2011 Andrés Villar 

Postdoctoral Fellowship Supervision

2016 – 2019 Susanna Santala, PhD University of Helsinki 

MA in Art History and Curatorial Studies

Supervised 16 Theses and Master’s Research Papers


Second reader / examiner on 29 Theses and Master’s Research Papers

Recent Courses

AH 2632G Canadian Art  

AH 2650G History of Photography  

AH 3642F / MSC 3642F Cold War Art & Politics   

AH 4640G / VA 9582B Seminar in Contemporary Art 

AH 4650G / VA 9594B Seminar in Photography 

VA 9586 Writing for the Arts 

VA 9600A PhD Seminar: Theory & Methods