University of Technology Sydney

80065 Critical Image Studio: Image Activism and Documentary Practice

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2024 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Design, Architecture and Building: Design
Credit points: 12 cp

Subject level:


Result type: Grade and marks

There are course requisites for this subject. See access conditions.


This subject introduces students to photography as a tool for activism. This subject introduces students to key photographic ideas and documentary modes of image making in a collaborative and experimental learning environment. Students engage in a variety of creative photographic experiences through project-based learning designed to develop foundational skills in photography. These include technical skills in the darkroom and analogue photographic processes, problem-solving skills, research and communication skills and the development of conceptual and critical approaches to documentary photography as a form of image activsim.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

On successful completion of this subject, students should be able to:

1. Demonstrate commitment to academic learning and take autonomous responsibility for actions and decisions that will benefit and produce inspirational responses to studio based projects.
2. Work iteratively through the design process by responding to critical feedback and proposing alternate solutions that incorporate skills learned in the darkroom into studio-based projects.
3. Undertake visual and textual research in diverse disciplines to learn how to conceptualise work beyond traditional photography and respond (verbally and visually) to critical feedback with thoughtful considered responses.
4. Demonstrate broad knowledge of the associated design professions and develop photographic techniques and skills in conjunction with critical skills from 80027 Photographic History and Theory.
5. Develop innovative solutions to the specific demands of the project and reference work from other disciplines to support an individual’s project.

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject also contributes to the following Course Intended Learning Outcomes:

  • Ability to constructively engage with subject learning activities (A.3)
  • Ability to work cooperatively and professionally as part of a team, initiate partnerships with others, take a leadership role when required, and constructively contribute to peer learning (C.1)
  • Ability to develop innovative approaches (I.1)
  • Ability to understand and challenge disciplinary conventions (I.2)
  • Ability to initiate and execute meaningful self-directed iterative processes (I.3)
  • Ability to recognise and engage in a diverse range of technical and practical contexts (P.1)
  • Ability to develop technical skills in photography and situated media (P.3)
  • Ability to reflect and engage in self-critique and critical thinking (R.5)

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

The term CAPRI is used for the five Design, Architecture and Building faculty graduate attribute categories where:

C = communication and groupwork

A = attitudes and values

P = practical and professional

R = research and critique

I = innovation and creativity.

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs) are linked to these categories using codes (e.g. C-1, A-3, P-4, etc.).

Teaching and learning strategies

This subject uses a problem-based learning strategy that involves students in researching and developing their own solutions to complex design challenges. The subject combines one 1-hour interactive lecture session, one 2-hour studio tutorial, and one 3-hour lab workshop per week.

Each week students will be asked to familiarise themselves with a range of different online written and visual resources that relate to the topic which are included in the program descriptions. They will then attend interactive lectures where they must be prepared to ask questions, raise ideas and apply their understanding of the topic in a collaborative learning environment. Preparation in advance of these interactive learning sessions is crucial.

Studio tutorials (after the lecture) will give students the opportunity to discuss questions about the weekly topic with peers and tutor/ mentors, collaborate on projects directly relevant to key ideas and the assessment items that engage them, and develop skills as a researcher and practitioner. Studio tutorials will provide students with the opportunity to take ownership of the ideas encountered in preparatory reading and research. Tutor mentors will help facilitate discussion and offer expert insight and direction where needed, but students are primarily responsible for the collaborative and participatory nature of the tutorial.

Lab workshops are provided to support students in the development of their specialist photography skills. Prior to each lab workshop students will be required to familiarise themselves with online content suggested in the program notes and prepare questions for the mentor in relation to the design projects they are working on.

Outside class time students are expected to extend the enquiries made in the collaborative learning session with the independent development of their assessment projects. Students are supported in these projects by access to level 2 photo media facilities.

Grades, marks and feedback on submitted tasks will be provided through Review.

Content (topics)

Introduction to image making as a tool for political, social and cultural comment.

Introduction to photography as a documentary practice.

Introduction to the foundations of photographic techniques, including camera-less photography, black & white film processing and printing including camera functions, film types, film exposure, composition and available light.

Experimental photography techniques.

Conceptual photography that generates a photograph of an informed idea using an experimental, interdisciplinary approach.

Theoretical readings that contextualise and advance studio-led practice based outcomes.


Assessment task 1: Photographic montage


This task engages students in experimental photographic processes. These processes were historically used to create images which operated as nuanced socio-political messages. In this task students will combine digital technology with technology of the past to create images which raise issues that are important in our world today. This task develops foundational skills in visual literacy, critical thinking and conceptual practice. In conjunction with the development of foundational technical skills in the photographic darkroom, this assessment introduces students to project-based learning activities that require ongoing concentration and development of their individual project, on a week by week basis.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

This task also addresses the following course intended learning outcomes that are linked with a code to indicate one of the five CAPRI graduate attribute categories (e.g. C.1, A.3, P.4, etc.):

A.3, I.1, I.3, P.1 and R.5

Type: Design/drawing/plan/sketch
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 50%
Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Commitment: Participation and engagement in all aspects of the tasks including contribution to class discussions and feedback sessions. 20 2 A.3
Development: Evidence of progressively developing the task each week both in terms of the student's creative ideas and technical skills. 20 4 I.3
Critical Awareness: Evidence that student is developing a critical understanding of the work they have produced. This will be assessed by the way the student talks about their work and the realisation of the ideas/concepts as evidenced in the designed outcome. 20 5 R.5
Technical skill: The technical and visual resolution of the designed outcome appropriate to the idea/concept. 20 1 P.1
Innovation: The extent to which the student has experimented with idea generation and the processes relevant to the task. 20 3 I.1
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 2: Photographic documents


Assessment Task 2 builds on the technical darkroom skills introduced in task 1. These include film exposure, processing and printing. These skills are applied to a photographic documentary project designed to ask questions of reportage, photo-journalism and editorial modes of working. The task introduces the skill of storytelling through combining images with texts that aim to challenge traditional modes of documentary in what is called the 'post-truth' era. The task also builds critical skills in questioning the socio-political implications of images.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1, 2, 3 and 5

This task also addresses the following course intended learning outcomes that are linked with a code to indicate one of the five CAPRI graduate attribute categories (e.g. C.1, A.3, P.4, etc.):

C.1, I.1, I.2 and P.3

Type: Design/drawing/plan/sketch
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 50%
Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Technical skill: The final work demonstrates continuous development and application of technical skills appropriate to the use of 35mm cameras, film development and printing in black and white. 25 1 P.3
Innovation: The demonstration of an inventive and imaginative approach to the designed outcome that meets the critical objectives of the 'news' item as a documentary task. 25 3 I.1
Critical Awareness: Demonstration of research undertaken in the field and the students ability to challenge existing modes of documentary, photo-journalism, reportage and editorial photography as evidenced in the final work, the student's ability to communicate their ideas and methods verbally, in text and in image. 25 5 I.2
Commitment: Demonstration of student's commitment and ability to work both collaboratively and autonomously in and outside of class. The students commitment to group work, their degree of participation in class during presentations of research, feedback sessions and work in progress discussions. 25 2 C.1
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Minimum requirements

The DAB attendance policy requires students to attend no less than 80% of formal teaching sessions (lectures and tutorials) for each class they are enrolled in to remain eligible for assessment.

Assessment criteria relate to the learning objectives listed in this document. See briefs for specific details of assessment criteria for each project. To pass a project, work submitted should show satisfactory achievement in all learning objectives.