David Howells

Studio 18: Time and the Image

Studio brief

"The highest wisdom would be to grasp that everything factual is already theory. The blue of the sky reveals to us the fundamental law of chromatics. Do not look for something beyond the phenomena; they are themselves the lesson."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, 1821.

This workshop will address some perennial problems of writing in the field of visual culture: how to adequately describe objects or images whose interest to us is primarily visual; what kind of knowledge of them is possible; what – if any – use can there be for a theory of visual artefacts and their interpretation.

The teaching will be organised as a series of exercises, each directed at a different aspect of the process by which an image is noticed, recognised, remembered, described, interpreted and evaluated. Above all, this workshop will seek to challenge a common academic assumption (even amongst art students!) that the former stages of this process are trivially easy (and therefore pass without reflection or comment) and that it is only the latter, 'theoretical' analysis which is worthy of intellectual effort. Indeed, it remains to be asked whether such matters happen in any particular order, or all at once, or perhaps in some altogether different kind of 'image time' that is quite unlike the order of words, sentences and paragraphs on a page. Nevertheless the craft of writing as witness to the experience of an image, the various institutional modes (eg art history vs art criticism) in which it has been practised, and the different kinds of visual attention they require (eg 'close' vs 'distant' readings) remain the practical concerns of this workshop.

Photographs, because of their ubiquity, and their currency as units of a kind of visual knowledge, will provide the main subject matter. However – and in sympathy with much contemporary photographic practice – the teaching methods of this workshop will not be based in any notion of medium specificity. Instead, an expanded notion of photography – including photographic images of other kinds of art – will furnish a suitable field of enquiry. This workshop should therefore be of interest to any student whose dissertation project entails the use of images as primary sources of information and objects of knowledge in themselves.

Preparatory exercise: The Scene of the Crime

The German critic Walter Benjamin described Eugène Atget's famous photographs of Paris as appearing like the 'scene of a crime', even though they were ostensibly taken for an entirely innocent purpose (architectural documentary).

Go to an exhibition of photographs in London (eg the current Gregory Crewdson exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery) and make some notes on one image as if recording evidence from a crime scene. Remember that any photograph shows far more things than its photographer intended to show, or even saw, at the time of its taking. Since you cannot describe everything, choose three or four things which might count as 'evidence' for something that happened out of sight, perhaps before or after the photograph was taken.

Reading List

  1. Michael Baxandall, The Language of Art History, published in New Literary History, vol. 10 no. 3, Spring 1979.
  2. John Berger, Field (1971) in About Looking, London: Writers and Readers, 1980.
  3. Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar (1983), London: Vintage Books 1999.
  4. James Elkins, What Photography Is, London: Routledge 2011.
  5. Vilem Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography (1983), London: Reaktion Books, 2000.
  6. Carlo Ginzburg, Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method, published in History Workshop Journal, vol. 9 issue 1, March 1980.
  7. Marvin Heiferman (ed. ), Photography Changes Everything, New York: Aperture 2012.
  8. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry (1767) trans. E Frothingham, Dover Publications 2005.
  9. André Malraux, Museum Without Walls (1951) in The Voices of Silence: Man and His Art, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1978.
  10. Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History, London: Verso 2005.
  11. Robert Smithson, A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey (1967) published in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (ed. Jack Flam), Berkeley: University of California Press 1996.
  12. Frances Yates The Art of Memory (1966), London: Pimlico 1992.


  • L'Année Dernière à Marienbad (France-Italy 1961, Alain Resnais)
  • Hubert Robert – A Fortunate Life (Germany 1997, Aleksander Sokurov)
  • (nostalgia) (USA 1971, Hollis Frampton)
  • The World as Will and Representation (USA 2005, Roy Arden)


Tutor David Howells

Tutor Biography

David Howells

Teaches on the BA (Hons) Fine Art

David Howells is a British writer and artist who trained at London Guildhall and Middlesex.

Dissertation Studios

Studio 1: Another India

Harriet McKay

Studio 1: Another India will examine, reflect upon and critique the historic use of "exotic" motifs in design.

Studio 2: Contemporary Ecology

Nabil Ahmed

In Studio 2 we will explore environmental topics through the lens of art, architecture, spatial practice, media and design disciplines.

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry

Christina Paine

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry is an exploration of race, gender, class and more in music.

Studio 4: Not allowed

Emma Davenport

Studio 4: What Not to Wear? will investigate the roles that dress and fashion play in our workplaces.

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories

Ektoras Arkomanis

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories allows you to critically examine any work that can be seen as theory or presents an interesting relationship with theory.

Studio 6: Curating as a Spatial Practice: From the Wunderkammer to Installation art

Nico de Oliveira

Studio 6: This dissertation studio is designed to help students who are interested in curating as a broad subject, as well as those who wish to contextualise their own practice within the scope of displaying art.

Studio 7: Souvenir

Dr Lesley Stevenson

Studio 7: This studio is concerned with those objects that are lent a particular enchantment because of their relationship with the past.

Studio 8: Post – card

Edwina Attlee

Studio 8 will look at one element of that system – the picture postcard – from a number of different perspectives.

Studio 9: ‘The Form of the Text’

Danielle Hewitt

Studio 9: Together we will explore the space of criticism; acknowledging our point of encounter with objects, places, sites and processes and the relationship between text, writer and reader.

Studio 10: Constellating

Sinead Evans

As creative practitioners we digest and produce images every day – as citizens of the digital age we consume between hundreds and thousands of images each day. This dissertation studio will slim down your daily diet to one image.

Studio 11: Science Fiction Futurity

Luke Jones

Speculative descriptions of the future reveal a magnified — or distorted — reflection of the fears and desires of the present.

Studio 12: Alternative Fashioned Modernities

Lezley George

Much is happening in the world today that foregrounds questions pertinent to our identities in a globalised world.

Studio 13: Desire, Trauma, History

Jonathan Whitehall

How does the relationship of memory to fantasy affect history? What are the links between desire, sexuality and trauma? How are these relationships played out or negotiated in visual and written practice? These questions will form the beginning of our enquiries into artworks, films and literature.

Studio 14: Design and Nature: Forms of an Entanglement

Gabriele Oropallo

We will look at how the idea of nature has been constructed over time and place, and study its impact on design practice in an age marked by the sustainability imperative.

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas

Lewis Jones

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas encourages you to explore how and why we make music, including its origin, relationship to technology and more.

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling

Jon Baldwin

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling will see you produce storygraphs, storyboards and various forms of narrative analysis in the seminars.

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences

Jeremy Collins

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences will encourage you to study an audience group using qualitative research methods in your investigations.

Studio 18: Time and the Image

David Howells

This workshop will address some perennial problems of writing in the field of visual culture.

Studio 19: Material in Motion

Heidi Yeo

Studio 19: This studio will explore a reading of objects focusing on the interplay between materials, the objects they form and their context.

Studio 20: The Liminal

Andrew Hewish

This Dissertation Studio examines instances of the liminal as they occur in critical theory and culture, and is open to any topic and students from all disciplines.

Studio 21: Reading the library (and nothing but the library)

Joseph Kohlmaier

This year, Studio 21 will stage an unusual experiment. It will move, unpack, catalogue, and perform readings from one private library; and make this library, without exception, the single resource for all the research and writing in the studio.

Studio 22: Meaningful work

Paul Harper

Studio 22: Meaningful work explores the value of making and the idea of craft as meaningful work.

Studio 23: A Common Thread

Gina Pierce

Studio 23: In A Common Thread, we unpick and examine the importance of textiles and how they underpin culture, industry, and global connections.

Cass Studios archive by year