Sarah Bassnett


Dr. Sarah Bassnett, Associate Professor (Art History)
Ph.D., Binghamton University, SUNY, 2004
M.A., York University, 1998
B.A., Honours, York University, 1996
B.A.A., Ryerson University, 1993


I am a historian of art and visual culture working primarily on photography and photo-based contemporary art. My research focuses on the intersections of photography and social transformation. I am especially interested in issues of power and resistance and movements for social change. In the past, I have examined moments when photography was central to the disruption and contestation that characterized modernity, particularly in relation to attempts to reconfigure cities and campaigns to constitute liberal subjects. My book, Picturing Toronto: Photography and the Making of a Modern City, looks at photography’s role in the liberal reform of early twentieth-century Toronto.Current projects

My current research examines the photography of global migration. Funded by a SSHRC Insight grant, this study investigates how photographers have pictured the causes and consequences of 21st-century mass migration. It considers photography’s potential to influence feelings of transnational connectedness and ideas about cultural difference, while taking into account how images circulate in the digital age.

Collaborative Research Project

I am a member of the steering committee for a three-year SSHRC Partnership Development Grant (2016-2019), The Family Camera Network. This project involves collecting family photographs and oral histories from diasporic communities in Southern Ontario, which will be preserved at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). The partner institutions for this network are: ROM, CLGA, Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, Ryerson, Western, and Yale University. Outcomes include an exhibition at the ROM for the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival from May 6 – Octorber 29, 2017 and an international conference on family photography from September 21-23, 2017

I am a founding member of the Toronto Photography Seminar, a group of academics and curators from universities in Southern Ontario. We have been meeting regularly since 2004 to conduct research on the history and theory of photography. We have collaborated on a number of grants and research projects described here:

Picturing Toronto: Photography and the Making of Modern Toronto, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016.

“Between Truth and Fiction,” Of Time and Building. 18-27. Exhibition catalogue, 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. Exhibition catalogue, 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.

Exhibitions Curated

Bassnett, Sarah and Patrick Mahon. Picturing Immigrants in the Ward: How photography shaped ideas about Central and Eastern European immigrants in early 20th-century Toronto. City of Toronto Archives Gallery. June 21, 2012 – May 2013.

PhD Supervision

In progress, Jessica Cappuccitti, “Art and Urban Revitalization in Detroit,” (chief supervisor).

In progress, Tom Baynes, “More than a Spasm, Less than a Sign: Gesture and the Visibility of Queer Masculinity in the United States, 1920-1950,”

In progress, Kate Tarini, “Making Archives, Making Collections: Exploring the Physical Legacy of Archives,” (committee member).

Michael Farnan, “Representing Wilderness: Culture, Community, and Artistic Practice,” (committee member).

2015 Jennifer Orpana, “Faces of (and for) Toronto: Community-Engaged Portrait Projects in the Neoliberal City,” (chief supervisor).

2014 Colin Miner, “A Photographic Ontology: Being Haunted within the Blue Hour and Expanding Field,” (committee member).

2012 Matthew Smith, “Relational Viewing: Affect, Trauma, and the Viewer in Contemporary Autobiographical Art,” (chief supervisor).

2011 Andrés Villar, “On the Cusp: Latin American Visual Arts in the 1920s,” (committee member).

Masters Research Paper Supervision

2016 Taylor Davison, “’Traditions of a Thousand Years’: Victorian Religion and Aesthetics in the Textiles of William Morris, 1880-1890,” Art History

2016 Katie Oates, “Visualizing the Women of the Beats Generation,” Art History

2015 Grace Bedwell, “Sitting in the Museum of Modern Art: Collecting Alvin Lucier’s Seminal Work, I Am Sitting in a Room,” Art History

Postdoctoral Fellowship Supervision

Susanna Santala

Masters Thesis Supervision

2014 Nicole Borland, “Creative Interventions and Urban Revitalization,” (chief supervisor), MA.

2014 Karly McIntosh, “Come Together: An Exploration of Contemporary Participatory Art Practices,” (chief supervisor), MA.

2013 Samantha Angove, “We Come in Piece: Art Exhibitions, Science Fiction, and Postcoloniality,” (second reader), MA.

2012 Jordana Franklin, “The Personal is Presentable: Transgressing the Public-Private Divide through the art of Sophie Calle and Tracey Emin,” (chief supervisor), MA.

2012 Stephanie Anderson, “Use it or Lose it: Inuit Art and the Soft Power of Canadian Cultural Diplomacy,” (second reader), MA.

2012 Neil Klassen, “The Elemental Earth: Renewed Ways of Seeing and Perceiving,” (second reader), MFA.

2010 Jennifer Orpana, “The ’Visual Griots’ of Mali: Nation Building and Cultural Negotiation with Youth Outreach Photography,” (chief supervisor), MA.

2010 Erin Rothstein, “Pablo Picasso and Primitivism: An Exploration of ‘Non-Western’ and Medieval Influences in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”(second reader), MA

2008 Maria Szabo, “Kaleidoscope Vision: Modern Perspectives in the Work of Pegi Nicol MacLeod,” (joint supervisor with Bridget Elliott), MA.

2006 Bettina Urcuioli, “Materiality and the Aura: Polaroid Photography in the Age of Art’s Technological Reproducibility,” (chief supervisor), MA.

2006 Ayako Kurokawa, “Past Memory, Present Feeling: An Investigation of Postmemory,” (joint supervisor with Patrick Mahon), MFA.

Recent Courses

VAH 1045B Collecting Art and Culture

VAH 2240 Theories and Practices of Art History and Visual Culture

VAH 2276 Canadian Art

VAH 2272G 20th-Century Canadian Art

VAH 2242 / 2282 History of Photography

VAH 3393 Art and the Cold War

VAH 4478 Seminar in Contemporary Art

VAH 4482 Seminar in Photography

VAH/S 9500a Art Theory and Criticism in Western Culture

VAH 9554 / 9654 The Work of Photography

VAH 9555/9655 Photography’s Discursive Spaces

VAH 9579/9679 Photography and Social Crisis

VAH 9586/9686B Writing for the Art World

VAH/S 9600a PhD Seminar: Theory and Methods