Louis Kaplan

Louis Kaplan

Professor of History and Theory of Photography and New Media

Current Appointment: Chancellor Jackman Faculty Research Fellow, Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto (2014-2015)
Undergraduate Appointment: Department of Visual Studies (UTM)

Graduate Appointment: Department of Art (St. George)

Cross-Appointments or Affiliations: Centre for Jewish Studies, Cinema Studies Institute, Knowledge Media Design Institute, and Centre for the Study of the United States


CCT 3059, UTM


A.B., Social Studies, Harvard University, 1981

M.A., Intellectual History, University of Chicago

Ph.D., Intellectual History, University of Chicago, 1988

Walter Rathenau Post-Doctoral Fellow, Verbund für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin, Germany, 1989-1990.

Post Doctoral Fellowship, Franz Rosenzweig Center for German-Jewish Cultural History and Literature, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, 1993-1995.


Professor Louis Kaplan is recognized internationally for his innovative historical and theoretical contributions to the field of photography studies in such areas as spirit photography, photography and community, photographic humour, the New Vision, and photography theory.  His wide-ranging research interests include 20th and 21st century European and North American art and visual culture; film and media culture; deconstruction; contemporary Jewish art and visual culture; humour in art and culture; and new media art practices (especially augmented reality), among others.  Kaplan has published eight books, three exhibition catalogues, and over fifty scholarly essays and articles.  His work has been translated into a dozen languages and he has delivered keynote lectures in Canada, the United States, Belgium, Great Britain, South Korea, and Israel.  Recent essays and articles have appeared in CR: The New Centennial Review, Journal of Visual Culture, Cabinet, History of Photography, PMC: Postmodern Culture, and Prefix Photo.  He also has collaborated with Melissa Shiff on a number of artistic projects including the highly acclaimed augmented reality exploration, Mapping Ararat.   Professor Kaplan has been awarded a SSHRC Standard Research Grant as well as a SSHRC Insight Development Grant.

Professor Louis Kaplan served as the inaugural Chair of the Department of Visual Studies at the Mississauga campus of the University of Toronto (2010 – 2013).  Before that, he was the Director of the Institute of Communication and Culture (2006-2010) and the founding coordinator of Visual Culture and Communications specialist program (2003-2006).  Professor Kaplan joined the faculty in 2002 and he has also taught at Tufts University and Southern Illinois University.  In 2013-14, he was a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Jewish History in New York and he is currently Faculty Research Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto.

Current Research Projects

1. Book project on Photography and Humour for the Exposures Series, Reaktion Books, London.

2. Co-Principal Investigator, Mapping Ararat: An Imaginary Jewish Homelands Project, SSHRC Insight Development Grant, 2011-2014.  With Melissa Shiff and John Craig Freeman.  Digital art and humanities project using augmented reality and virtual cartography to reanimate Mordecai Noah’s 1825 plan to make Grand Island, New York into a Jewish refuge and homeland.  To be presented as gallery installation with book/catalogue upon completion.  

3. At Wit’s End: Reflections on Jewish Humour from Weimar to Wiedergutmachung (manuscript completed).

Courses Taught


Photography and Humour
Advanced Project: Spectres of Visual and Media Culture

Art and Media Culture

Theory and Criticism of Photography and New Media
History of Photography


Photography and Modernism: Montage and Modern Life

Photography Theory

Photography and Community
Augmented Reality Art: Mapping Digital Culture

NB: Professor Kaplan is accepting applications from prospective Art History graduate students with particular interests in photography studies, contemporary art, visual culture, theory, and augmented reality art in the Graduate Department of Art which is located on the St. George campus of U of T. >link

Select Publications

The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer (University of Minnesota Press, 2008). Nominated for the John Hope Franklin Prize of the American Studies Association.
American Exposures: Photography and Community in the Twentieth Century (University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: Biographical Writings (Duke University Press, 1995).  Chinese edition published by Zhejiang Photographic Press in 2010.  Nominated for the James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Languages Association.
The Damned Universe of Charles Fort (New York: Autonomedia, 1993).
Gumby: The Authorized Biography of the World’s Favorite ClayboyCo-authored with Scott Michaelsen and in collaboration with Art Clokey (Harmony Books, 1986).

Other Publications

Special Journal Issue

Louis Kaplan and John Paul Ricco, co-editors, Regarding Jean-Luc Nancy in Journal of Visual Culture (London: Sage) April 2010, Vol. 9, No. 1, 135 pp. 

Forthcoming Essays

“Photographic Patriotism: Arthur Mole’s Living Photographs,” in The Photographs of Arthur Mole (Paris: RVB Books, 2015).

“Returning to Scratch: Joshua Neustein’s Erasures and the Movement of Deconstruction,” in Brad Buckley and John Conomos, editors, Erasure: The Spectre of Cultural Memory. (Middlesex, UK: Libri Publishing House, 2015).

Mapping Ararat: An Augmented Reality Walking Tour for an Imaginary Jewish Homeland,” in special issue of Anthro-Vision (May, 2015) edited by Michaela Schaeuble based on “Mining Imagination” workshop at the Harvard Humanities Center, April 2013.  

“Toward a Historiography of (Spirit) Photographic Doubt: Episodes in Ghostbusting and Photoshopping” in Sabine Kriebel and Andres Zervigon, eds., Photography in Doubt (New York: Routledge, 2016).

Recent Essays

“Humor in Art” in Michael Kelly, ed. Encyclopaedia of Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2014). Volume 3, pp. 373-377.

Mapping Ararat: Augmented Reality, Virtual Tourism and Grand Island’s Jewish Ghosts,” in C/R: The New Centennial Review, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2013), 239-264.

 “Sontag’s Regarding and Bataille’s Unknowing” in Maria Pia Di Bella and James Elkins, Representations of Pain in Art and Visual Culture in Routledge Advances in Art and Visual Studies Series (New York: Routledge, 2013). 

“Dybbuks of Derrida: Traces of Deconstruction in Contemporary Jewish Art,” in Loren Lerner, ed., “Contemporary Art and Religion” special issue of Journal of Canadian Art History 33:2 (Fall 2012). 

“Dennis Oppenheim and Photography: On Reading Position for Second Degree Burn” in Christof Migone, ed., WOOD TWO (Blackwood Gallery, September 2012).

“Lesson One: Venus in the Light of Visual Culture,” Invited contributor to Raiford Guins, ed., The Ways of Seeing Issue, Journal of Visual Culture 11: 2 (London, Sage, August 2012): 46-49.

 “The New Vision of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy,” (in English and Hebrew translation) in Aya Lurie, ed., Luma: Modern Photography in the First Half of the Twentieth Century (Tel Aviv, Israel: Shpilman Institute for Photography, 2012), 161-166.

Midcentury Studio: Entertaining Stan Douglas’ Photographic Remakes and Double Takes,” in Melanie O’Brian, ed., Stan Douglas: Entertainment (Toronto: The Powerplant, 2011), 19-41.

“An Art of Getting Lost: Mapping Patrick Clancy’s Photo-Scroll 365/360,” History of Photography, Volume 35, Issue 1, (London: Routledge, February 2011): 6-14. 

“John and Yoko’s Media War for Peace” in J. Keri Cronin and Kirsty Robertson, ed., Imagining Resistance: Visual Culture and Activism in Canada (Waterloo, Canada: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2011), 55-74.

“Bataille’s Laughter,” in John C. Welchman, ed., Black Sphinx: On the Comedic in Modern Art  (Zurich, Switzerland: J.R.P./Ringier, 2010), 98-125.

 “Photograph/Death Mask: Jean-Luc Nancy’s Recasting of the Photographic Image” in Louis Kaplan and John Paul Ricco, editors, Regarding Jean-Luc Nancy, Special Issue of Journal of Visual Culture Vol. 9, No. 1 (London: Sage Publishers, April 2010): 45-62.

Recent Exhibitions

“Mapping Ararat: Globally Positioned Sites (GPS),” Feature exhibition at the 2013 American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) Annual Conference, Jackman Humanities Building, University of Toronto, April 4-7, 2013.

“Mapping Ararat,” as part of the group art exhibition Where To? curated by Udi Edelman at the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon, Israel, April 28 - July 14, 2012.  Included works by Yael Bartana, Michael Blum, and others.

“Post-Modern Jewish Wedding,” as part of the group art exhibition With This Ring: The Wedding in Contemporary Art curated by Raz Samira, The Corine Maman Ashdod Museum, December 29, 2011 – July 18, 2012.


Click here to access Louis Kaplan’s homepage at the Jackman Humanities Institute.

Editorial board member: History of PhotographyCR: The New Centennial ReviewTopia, and Photography and Culture

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