Foto: Veronika Kurnosova

Photography Studies and Research – Master of Arts

The long-established expertise in photography at the Folkwang University of the Arts, represented by five professors, a professionally furnished photo laboratory, an outstandingly equipped research library specialising in the theory and history of photography, an exhibition programme in our own university gallery rooms that has been intensively pursued for many years, let alone the traditionally close contacts to numerous museums, galleries and archives – all this demonstrates that: Essen is indeed the right location for a master programme on theory and history of photography.

Since the 2016, the Folkwang University of the Arts is offering a two-year "Photography Studies and Research" Master, aimed at all those students who find a critical reflection of photography a fascinating subject. In this Master programme, basic knowledge will be taught and acquired of the now almost two-hundred year history of this visual medium, the widely diversified theory of photography that has been built up in the meantime – not to mention the practical foundations of various photographic processes and technologies.

Two Master study courses – One tandem

Herein lies the uniqueness of the Essen Master study course: it is one half within a tandem of two complementary Master's programmes "Photography Studies and Practice" and "Photography Studies and Research". The Folkwang University is the only place in Europe where practical, theoretical and historical interests in photography can be combined at the level of a master's degree.  

At Folkwang, this close neighbourhood is the programme. Just as in the "Practice" Master's degree scientific courses have to be taken, the "Research" Master's degree offers artistic courses that introduce students to the techniques and materialities of photography. The tandem of the two master's degree courses is a continuing joint conversation on both historical and new forms of photography.

Whom we seek

The requirement for a new Master study is a Bachelor's degree (or also a Master's degree, as appropriate) in a humanities or social science discipline with a high degree of relevance to the theory and history of photography (such as Art History, Media Studies, Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Literary Studies, Linguistics, Science of History, Sociology and Ethnology). This study is also open to graduates of artistic study courses with a particular academic aptitude. The aptitude of all applicants will be determined in the course of interviews. The requirements for this interview are a sample chapter taken from a major work or an article (each containing approx. 30,000 characters) dealing with an issue relating to the history and/or theory of photography plus a serious interest in photography.

What we teach

This new Master programme academic course offering comprises a total of six specialisations:

  • History of Photography from its period of formation in the early 19th century to the present-day
  • Theory of Photography
  • Photography in the broader field of art history
  • Photography in its societal and social contexts
  • Role and function of the photography medium within the history of science
  • Institutionalised forms of photography (art criticism, collection and archive, curation, the art market)

Here the students will benefit from a closely knit network of institutional partners outside the university, with whom they will cooperate on the basis of major projects.

The practical course offering will concentrate on the following:

  • In the first semester, a comprehensive course is offered to introduce apparative aspects and materialities of photographic processes. In this regard, our superbly equipped in-house photo laboratories available for the study course offer the best opportunity to explore both the historical and the contemporary forms of the photographic medium in an unusually intense manner based on the students' own practice.
  • In addition, at the beginning of each semester all the students of both Master study courses  come together in a joint opening event to present their new projects (still in the fledgling stage) and have them put to the critical test for the first time.
  • In the second and third semester, all Theory Master students finally take part in one of the artistic courses offered in the Practice Master and in this manner gain insights into a different form of dealing with the photographic medium.

The curriculum of the theory and history of photography is complemented by courses offered by the other scholarly professors at the Faculty of Design: Design Studies, Gender & Diversity and Philosophy. All seminars offered by these professors are open to all students of the Master's programme "Photography Studies and Research".

A worldwide network

Does there exist in our time another visual medium that is as widespread as photography, that is so intensively used worldwide, that plays a role in so many different contexts and has become important for so many different purposes? We take these questions seriously at the Folkwang University of the Arts and intend to answer them jointly with our international partners – both in teaching and in research. The Photography study course already works together with a large number of other universities in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia. By means of joint events – excursions, workshops and conferences as well as joint projects, we critically respond to the importance of photography as a medium that organises (and at times dominates) our everyday lives on a worldwide basis. In this process, the master program on Theory and History of Photography is at the forefront of such cooperations. Detailed information is available here.


Places for the new Master will be announced once a year in the spring – Application deadline for winter semester is end of may. The interviews take place beginning of july, with the results communicated to the candidates shortly afterwards.

We would be delighted to answer any questions you may have on the study programme, admission conditions and course options at any time!

Just send us an email to:



+49 (0) 201_6505_1539


+49 (0) 201_6505-1507