Sarah Bassnett


Dr. Sarah Bassnett, 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.  

Recent Articles / Book Chapters / Catalogue Essays  


Tsun-Kong Sham, Y. Zou Finfrock, Qunfeng Xiao, Renfei Feng, and Sarah Bassnett,“Retrieving Images from Tarnished Daguerreotypes using X-ray Fluorescence with an X-Ray Micro Beam with Tunable Energy,” Journal of Cultural Heritage (May – June 2024): 53-61,


Trevor Paglen’s Border Abstractions in the Age of Machine Vision,” photographies 17, 1-2 (spring 2024): 25-42,


“Rescue Politics: Richard Mosse’s Thermal Imaging and the Containment of Migration,” Oxford Art Journal 46, no. 3 (December 2023): 327-55,


Family, Diaspora, and the Politics of Care in Griselda San Martin’s The Wall, 2015-16,” special issue of Photography and Culture 16, no. 3 (September 2023): 219-33,


“Witnessing the Trauma of Undocumented Migrants in Mexico,” Contact Zones: Photography, Migration, and America, ed. Justin Carville and Sigrid Lien. Leuven, 281-302. Belgium: Leuven University Press (7 500 words, peer-reviewed). Open access URI

2021 "Susan Dobson: Uneasy Beauty," Focus Finder. Sarnia: Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery. 

“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),

2020 "Life Magazine in Africa and the Ideology of Modernization," photographies, 12, no. 2 (spring 2020): 273-293.
2011 "Shooting Immigrants: Ethic Difference in Early Twentieth-Century Press Photography." The Cultural Work of Photography in Canada, 106-119. Ed. Carol Payne and Andres Kunard. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
2009 "Archive and Affect in Contemporary Photography," Photography and Culture 2, no.3 (November 2009): 241-252.

 Guest-Edited Journals

Sarah Bassnett and Blessy Augustine, co-edited special issue of the journal Photography & Culture on Photography and 21st-Century Migration, 16, no. 3 (September 2023).

Sarah Bassnett, Andrea Noble, and Thy Phu, co-edited special issue of the journal Visual Studies on Cold War Visual Alliances, 30, no. 2 (June 2015).


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