Personal profile

Research interests

Annebella Pollen is Professor of Visual and Material Culture. Her research areas include mass photography and the popular image, and histories of art, craft, design and dress, especially marginal, alternative and non-canonical forms.

Supervisory Interests

Annebella supervises PhD projects in visual and material culture, histories of photography and popular image cultures, Mass Observation, modern British art and design, non-elite design and dress history, everyday / vernacular cultural practices and countercultures. She is supervising ten current doctoral students, has supervised seven PhDs to completion, including a PhD by Publication, and has examined 25 PhD theses, including practice-led doctorates, internationally.

Scholarly biography

From 2022-24 Annebella is on research leave, supported by a Philip Leverhulme Prize. Previously she has been Director of the Centre for Design History and Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Ethics Committee (2020-22), Academic Programme Leader in History of Art and Design and Deputy Director of the Centre for Design History (2017-20), AHRC Research Fellow (2015-17) and Director of Historical and Critical Studies (2012-15). She holds a PhD from University of the Arts London, an MA in Design History and Material Culture (Distinction) and a BA in Visual Culture (First Class) from University of Brighton. 

Annebella's most recent book is Art Without Frontiers: The Story of the British Council, Visual Arts and a Changing World, a major commissioned history of the British Council's use of art and craft in international cultural relations. It draws on her expertise in cultural and social histories of art and design, and the visual and material culture of British national identity.

Annebella’s longstanding interest in mass photography has covered found photos, family albums, vernacular archives, amateur competitions, photographic publishing and the photographic industry. It is the focus of her academic monograph, Mass Photography: Collective Histories of Everyday Life (2015) and her image-led book, More Than a Snaphot (2023). Further research can be found in her co-edited essay collection Photography ReframedNew Visions in Contemporary Photographic Culture (2018) and many other journal articles and book chapters. Annebella regularly writes for the art press; her ongoing series, Flea Market Photobooks, for Source: The Photographic Review, explores overlooked illustrated publications.

In 2015-17 Annebella held an AHRC Fellowship, Picturesqueness in Everything: The Visual and Material Culture of British Woodcraft Groups, 1916-2016. This project explored art, craft, design and dress as forms of resistance, radical educational strategies and utopian ideals, focusing on progressive interwar youth organisations. Outcomes included the award-winning 2015 monograph, The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift: Intellectual Barbarians and a co-curated exhibition of the same name at Whitechapel Gallery. These countercultures inspired Annebella's 2021 book, Nudism in a Cold Climate: The Visual Culture of Naturists in Mid-20th-Century Britain.

Histories of graphic design inform Annebella's popular image research, which includes studies of Victorian valentines, Edwardian postcards and the silhouette portrait. Her publications on dress include the co-edited Dress History: New Directions in Theory and Practice (2015) and essays on dressing-up costume, uniform, secondhand clothes and dress reform.

With the support of her Philip Leverhulme Prize, Annebella will be on research leave, 2022-24, to complete existing projects and to develop new areas, including a book and exhibition on photography by children.

Approach to teaching

A personal view:

The impetus for many of my projects comes from teaching; all my research is developed by sharing and testing in classroom settings. As practitioners and cultural commentators, students bring unique perspectives and insights and act as formal and informal collaborators; in turn, students experience validation and engagement through participation in live debates and public-facing research.

In the crucible of the classroom, through my research-led modules and my research methods teaching, I demonstrate how I do what I do, as well as how I know what I know, so students understand the structures behind the information and become independent, professional researchers themselves. This approach is informed by pedagogic scholarship, including a 2009 PGCert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (Distinction) and 2021 Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.

I have taught History of Art and Design at all levels at Brighton since 2005, including as Academic Programme Leader, 2017-20, as well as history and theory teaching for Fashion, Textiles, Design and Craft, including as Director of Historical and Critical Studies, 2012-15. I have externally examined BA and MA courses in art and photography history, visual culture and design history and theory at eight UK universities.

My current focus is on the support of PhD students. I have led funded collaborative doctoral projects with external partners including Worthing Museum and National Science and Media Museum, Bradford. I am also committed to developing skills internationally, demonstrated in my 2021 leadership of the British Academy-funded workshop series, Design Writing: Words and Images, Objects and Histories, for doctoral and early career researchers in Brazil.

I particularly enjoy developing and leading collaborative staff-student research projects with arts and heritage organisations, such as Profiles of the Past and Objects Unwrapped. These projects demystify research, break down staff-student hierarchies, share networks and resources, teach aspiring professionals the tools of the trade and create showcases for original work that becomes part of public debate. 

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, History of Photography, University of the Arts London

External positions

External Examiner, MA Photographic History, De Montfort University

20222026

External Examiner, Design History and Theory, Glasgow School of Art

20222026

External Assessor, Art History and Visual Culture (Dissertation), Open University Milton Keynes

20212024

External Examiner, MA Art and Visual Culture, University of Westminster

20192022

External Examiner, MA Critical and Historical Studies Dissertations, Royal College of Art

20182022

Future Leader Fellowships: Peer Review College member, UKRI

20182023

Peer Review College member, Arts and Humanities Research Council

20172026

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