Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr. Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, photographs are easier to produce, distribute, and consume than ever before. This class takes today’s image-saturated culture as its point of departure, seeking to historicize and theorize photography in relation to the political, commercial, and aesthetic discourses that shaped it.
From its inception, photography was constituted in relationship to other fields of inquiry—scientific, literary, and artistic—and has generated its own body of criticism. We will start by looking at photography’s struggles to establish itself in relation to both science and art by examining the field’s key advocates and practitioners in the modern period, including Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, and Lázló Moholy-Nagy. Next, we will analyze ideas and techniques invoked by contemporary practice—appropriation, the politics of looking, and the archive—through the work of Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Taryn Simon, and LaToya Ruby Frazier, among others, and will conclude by analyzing at the status of the image in the digital age.
Several theories of photography will anchor the seminar, including writing by Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Geoffrey Batchen, Tina Campt, and Susan Sontag. We will consider photography in relation to the construction of identity and to other media, and explore its status as an artifact, document, and digital file, to determine how photography evolved in both the public imagination and in practice.
The class will include guest lectures by visiting artists and curators who will speak to the class about their work. Students will be asked to write short papers on the course readings, a piece of photo criticism, and to develop a research topic over the course of the semester that culminates in a final research project and presentation.