Research area: history of photography, technology and visual culture in the modern era, photo theory and contemporary practice around the world
Professor Nickel's second area of teaching is the art of the United States, over the same centuries; he has affiliated faculty status with the American Studies program at Brown and with the Science and Technology Studies program. One current book project proposes a broad reconceptualization of the photograph as a theoretical object from the perspective of reception and response, arguing for the same scholarly attention to be paid to the viewer of the photograph as that traditionally afforded to its maker, and investigating what projections, presuppositions, and beliefs we bring to our viewing of pictorial representations of all kinds.
Another project offers a re-description of photography’s advent in 1839, marrying insights from social art history and the history of science to delineate how inventions happen, what drives discovery (ie individual agency, prevailing cultural conditions, networks) and the role of heuristics in sorting out the problem of historical causation.
Professor Nickel’s doctoral students have pursued a broad range of topics, from Muybridge’s animal locomotion studies in 1880s Philadelphia to modernist photographers in Mexico between the world wars and the role of the camera and outdoor sketching in “scientizing” landscape perception in China in the early twentieth century. For the past few years, he has been centrally involved in the creation of a new international organization for scholars in his field, to be called the North American Association for the History of Photography.
For more information on Professor Nickel, please go to his University Research page.