Louis Kaplan

Louis Kaplan

History and Theory of Photography and New Media

Professor of History and Theory of Photography and New Media

Undergraduate Appointment: Department of Visual Studies (UTM)
Graduate Appointment: Department of Art History (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


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 studies; and new media art practices (especially augmented reality), among others.  Kaplan has published eleven books, three exhibition catalogues, and over eighty scholarly essays and articles.  His latest publication is a full-length study of the complex and fascinating discourse on Jewish Witz (wit and joke) in twentieth century Germany from the Weimar Republic to the Holocaust and beyond.  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.  His essays and articles have appeared in such publications as FOAM International Photography MagazineCR: The New Centennial Review, Journal of Visual CultureCabinetHistory of PhotographyPMC: Postmodern Culture, and Prefix Photo.  He also has collaborated with the artist Melissa Shiff on research-creation projects incorporating new media.  These include the highly acclaimed augmented reality exploration, Mapping Ararat and, more recently, the virtual reality project, The Imaginary Jewish Homelands of I.N. Steinberg.  Louis Kaplan has been awarded a Standard Research Grant as well as both Insight and Insight Development Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 

Professor 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, Southern Illinois University, Columbia College (Chicago), and the Stanford Berlin Study Center.  His research appointments include Visiting Scholar at the Center for Jewish History in New York (2013-2014), Faculty Research Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto (2014-2015), and Getty Library Research Fellow at the Getty Research Institute in the summer of 2018.

Current Research Projects

1. The Imaginary Jewish Homelands of I.N. Steinberg.  Chief historian and theorist on collaborative research-creation project using virtual reality to image and imagine I.N. Steinberg and the Freeland League’s plans to transform three remote sites (Kimberley Western Australia, Port Davey Tasmania, and the Saramacca region of Surinam) into a Jewish refuge/homeland against the backdrop of the Holocaust.  This project includes specific study of visual images related to Steinberg and other key Jewish territorialist figures (Melech Ravitch and Critchley Parker, Jr.) in Australia.

3. Leo Steinberg’s Jewish Questions.  Exploration of the famous emigre art historian and critic and his relationship to Jewish cultural questions especially in light of his association with the organization led by his father (Freeland League).  This project was awarded Getty Library Research Fellowship. 

3. Exegesis Xxenogenesis.  Intellectual biography and exegetical analysis of the revelations of the Polish-American theosophical author and spoken word artist, Xxenogenesis (b. 1926) especially related to his cult album, Sexxenogenesis #1 (1973).  This project is in collaboration with Scott Michaelsen (Michigan State University) and scheduled for publication with Metanoia Press (edited by Richard Doyle). 

Recent Courses Taught


Photography and Humour
Photomontage: History Theory, Practice,
Spirit Photography
Theory and Criticism of Photography  
History of Photography


Photography and Humour
Augmented Reality Art: Mapping Digital Culture
Photography and Modernism: Montage and Modern Life


At Wit’s End: The Deadly Discourse on the Jewish Joke (Fordham University Press, 2020).

Photography and Humour (Reaktion Books London/University of Chicago Press, 2017).

Living Photographs – Arthur Mole (RVB Books, Paris, 2015).

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

“Horizontal Thinking and the Emergence of Visual Culture” in A. Joan Saab, Aubrey Anable, and Catherine Zuromskis, eds., The Wiley Blackwell Concise Companion to Visual Culture (Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell, 2021).

“In Praise of the Wit in the Wisdom: Three Theses on Teaching with Humor,” in Kishor Vaidja (University of Canberra), ed. Teach History with a Sense of Humor (Canberra, Australia: The Curious Academic Press, Fall 2021).

Recent Essays

“From Ararat to Kimberley: Activating Imaginary Jewish Homelands with Augmented and Virtual Reality”(with Melissa Shiff), in Chris Cantwell and Kristian Petersen editors, Introduction to Digital Humanities: Research Methods in the Study of Religion (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2020).

“American Photographic Indicators: Addressing the Photo-Political State of a Contested Union” in Gil Pasternak, ed., The Handbook of Photography Studies (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2020), 433-448.

“Pelle’s Playtime” on Pelle Cass, Crowded Fields (2017-2019) in FOAM International Photography Magazine 54 (Amsterdam, September 2019), pp. 257-264.

“Ghosts Just for Laughs: Spirit Photography and Debunking Humor” in Mieke Bleyen and Liesbeth Decan, eds., Photography Performing Humor (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press/Cornell University Press, 2019), 96-111. 

“Ruminations for Igor Samolet’s Breakfast for Artem (2016-2017)” in FOAM International Photography Magazine 51 (Amsterdam, September 2018), pp. 161-176.

“A Magician Among the Spirit Photographers: Reflections on Houdini’s Doubt” in Sabine Kriebel and Andres Zervigon, eds., Photography in Doubt (New York: Routledge, 2017), 59-76. 

Mapping Ararat: An Augmented Reality Walking Tour for an Imaginary Jewish Homeland” (with Melissa Shiff) in Anthro-Vision 4.2 (VANEASA, December 2016).

“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, eds., Erasure: The Spectre of Cultural Memory. (Middlesex, UK: Libri Publishing House, 2015), 163-178. 

Collaborative Research Projects

The Imaginary Jewish Homelands of I.N. Steinberg (2015-Present).  Digital art and humanities project using virtual reality (Unity gaming engine) to image and imagine I.N. Steinberg and the Freeland League’s plans to make Kimberley Western Australia, Port Davey Tasmania, and the Saramacca region of Surinam into a Jewish refuge and homeland against the backdrop of the Holocaust.  With Melissa Shiff (York University).  Co-Principal Investigator.  Funded by SSHRC Development Grant.

Mapping Ararat: An Imaginary Homelands Project (2011-2014).  Digital art and humanities project using augmented reality and vernacular cultural artifacts to image and imagine Mordecai Noah’s 1825 plan to make Grand Island, New York into a Jewish refuge and homeland.  With Melissa Shiff and John Craig Freeman. Co-Principal Investigator.  Funded by SSHRC Insight Development Grant.

Recent Exhibition: “Mapping Ararat” as part of the group art exhibition, “Absent Monuments” curated by Maria Kramar at the Zarya Center for Contemporary Art, Vladivostok, Russia, November 4, 2016 – January 22, 2017. 

Other Links

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

Professor Louis Kaplan’s Academia Profile


Gumpy Book cover
At Wit's End book cover
Photography & Humour book cover