Department of History
HIST 5702X – Photography and Public History
Instructor: J. Opp
Office: 443 PA
This course introduces graduate students to the social history of photography, with an eye towards exploring the methodological and theoretical issues that complicate the use of photographs as evidence of “the past.” Our aim is to contextualize the historical production of photographs while at the same time problematizing the position of those who use photographs for research, for exhibition, and for visualizing history. By exposing the power relations invested in photographic practices, we will critically assess how the archiving, collecting, publishing, and exhibiting of photographs have historically and continue to serve as sites of contested memory.
The course is roughly divided into three sections that reflect the dominant themes of the course, or the “sites” at which we will explore photographic practices: A) Seeing, B) Documenting, C) Remembering. This course does not aspire to offer a comprehensive survey of photographers, detail the technical history of cameras and film, or compare photographic styles as a function of art. Rather, through selective themes and case examples, we will trace the power of photographic representations, past and present, and reconsider how historians and other scholars employ, utilize, and come to terms with photographs and photographic practice.
Oral presentation: 20%
Written Assignment: 35%
Participation: 45% (10% seminar leadership, 5% photo blog, 30% seminar work)
Full attendance and participation is expected in this course. In this seminar, it is not the quantity, but the quality of your contributions that count in assessing participation. Give yourself time not only to read, but to reflect on the readings and be prepared to engage the issues at hand. While debate is encouraged, it is also expected that participants will behave in a civil manner, respecting diverse points of view.
As a general rule, laptops and other electronic devices are usually not required for a seminar discussion and should be left in bags. However, such devices can be used for displaying images or websites to aid the discussion, where useful.
Part of your seminar mark will be based on your work as “seminar leader.” For every week of readings, a different student (or team of 2 students) will take a turn as the designated seminar leader and will be responsible for providing a brief (8-10 minute) introduction to the readings and issues at hand. Your introduction can discuss central ideas, introduce the authors, put the readings into a broader context, or offer a creative introduction to the themes of the week. Seminar leaders will be responsible for setting out questions to be discussed and organizing how we move through the readings, and (hopefully) keeping the discussion moving in meaningful and relevant directions. Ideally, a portion of the second half of the seminar will be focused on ‘workshopping’ some of the concepts and ideas raised in a more hands-on manner. In some cases, the instructor has already laid out some possibilities for this aspect, but for most weeks you have a wide range of possibilities to bring visual materials into the class to have the group work through them in light of the week’s readings. Seminar leaders who want to use a larger video platform should make prior arrangements with the instructor for any necessary equipment.
Since this course is all about using, thinking about, and working with photographs, I would like everyone to keep a photo blog – you can hold on to an existing blog, or create a new one for this exercise. This should be a personal reflection that takes at least one photo and somehow relates it to the readings at hand. Although you can add as much as you wish to your blog, the expectation is that you will post a minimum of three substantive items, about one per month (Jan / Feb / Mar) and that you will take time to read and hopefully comment on the reflections of your peers.
Note: you MUST complete both the oral and written assignment to receive a passing grade in this course. Failure to complete either will result in an automatic grade of FND.
Oral presentations will take place during the last week of classes. Your presentation will take the themes and theories we have analyzed over the term and apply them to a case study of photographs employed to support, illustrate, or “narrate” history in “public” (you can set this in historical or contemporary terms). The oral presentation will be a maximum of 20 minutes in length and should be considered a preliminary presentation of your fuller research paper (20-22 pages, not including illustrations/notes/bibliography). Specific topics should be discussed with the instructor at an early date. Your paper will serve as your “final exam” and will be due during the final exam period in December.
Outline of Readings
( please expect some alterations due to guest speakers, new readings,
and other class interruptions; updated Jan 4 )
1. Introduction: Photography and its Public Histories [ Jan 7 ]
Part A: Seeing
2. Theoretical Approaches [ Jan 14 ]
Wells and Price, “Thinking about photography: debates, historically and now,” in Liz Wells, ed. Photography: A Critical Introduction (2004)
Roland Barthes.”The Photographic Message,” in Image, Music, Text.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (selections from Photography: A Critical Reader)
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936)
Susan Sontag, On Photography (“In Plato’s Cave”) pp. 1-24.
Mini assignment: glance at the quotes listed in the back of Sontag; pick your favorite, write it down, and bring it to class.
3. Reality, Artifice, and Modern Visions [ Jan 21 ]
Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer, 1-9, 109-136.
Suren Lalvani, Photography and the Production of Modern Bodies (chapters 5; “The Visual Order of the Nineteenth Century”)
Miles Orvell, The Real Thing (chapter 3, “Photography and the Artifice of Realism”)
Shawn Michelle Smith, American Archives (pp. 51-68, “Superficial Depths”)
James Opp “Picturing Communism: Yousuf Karsh, Canadair, and Cold War Advertising” in The Cultural Work of Photography in Canada (MQUP, 2011)
Part B: Documenting
5. Documentary Impulses [ Jan 28 ]
Laura Wexler, Tender Violence (Chapter 1 – “What a Woman can do with a Camera”)
W.J.T. Mitchell, “The Photographic Essay, Four Case Studies” from Picture Theory, 281-300.
Patricia Vettel-Becker, “Tough Guys in the City: Cameramen and Street Photographers,” from Shooting from the Hip: Photography, Masculinity, and Postwar America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 61-86.
Catherine A. Lutz and Jane L. Collins, Reading National Geographic, Chapter 7 – “The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes,” 187-215.
Carol Payne, “Lessons with Leah: Re-Reading the Photographic Archive of Nation in The National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division,” Visual Studies Vol. 21, No.1 (April 2006): 4-22
Martha and John Langford, A Cold War Tourist and His Camera (MQUP, 2011), 19-29, 55-92.
6. Live through this [ Feb 4 ]
Special event – photography Tony Fouhse at CUAG for his exhibition, “Live through this”
Please take a look at his website and blog: tonyfoto.com
Regular class will be cancelled so that we can participate in an evening event at CUAG.
More details tba.
7. Visual Intimacies [ Feb 11 ]
Malek Alloula, The Colonial Harem, chapter 10, “Images of a Suberoticism”
W.J.T. Mitchell, “The Photographic Essay, Four Case Studies” from Picture Theory, 307-312.
Christopher Wright, “Supple Bodies: The Papua New Guinea Photographs of Captain Francis R. Barton, 1899-1907” in Photography’s Other Histories
Lucy Lippard, Partial Recall, Introduction, pp. 11-43.
Jennifer Evans, “Seeing Subjectivity: Erotic Photography and the Optics of Desire” (to be distributed).
Part C: Remembering
8. Albums / Memory [ Feb 25 ]
Martha Langford, Suspended Conversations, 3-21, 61-63.
Deborah Chambers, “Family as Place: Family Photograph Albums and the Domestication of Public and Private Space” in Picturing Place.
Shawn Michelle Smith, “Baby’s Picture is Always Treasured”: Eugenics and the Reproduction of Whiteness in the Family Photograph Album,” The Yale Journal of Criticism 11:1 (Spring): 197-220.
Shawn Michelle Smith, “‘Looking at One’s Self Through the Eyes of Others’: W. E. B. Du Bois’s Photographs for the 1900 Paris Exposition,” African American Review 34:4: 581-599.
Kirsten Emiko McAllister, “The Story of Escape: Family Photographs from Japanese Canadian Internment Camps,” in Locating Memory: Photographic Acts
Mini assignment: bring a (preferably material) photo album to class, if you have access to one.
9. Archival Encounters [ Mar 4 ]
Allan Sekula, “Reading an Archive,” excerpt from Mining Photographs and Other Pictures
Joan M. Schwartz, “Coming to Terms with Photographs,” 54 Archivaria (2002): 142-171.
James Opp, “The Colonial Legacies of the Digital Archive: the Arnold Lupson Photographic Collection,” Archivaria (Special issue on photographs and archives) 65 (2008): 3-19.
Tina M. Campt, Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe, excerpts tba.
Carol Payne and Jeffrey Thomas, “Aboriginal Interventions into the Photographic Archives,” Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation. Volume XVIII, No.2 (June 2002): 109-125.
10. Exhibitionary Encounters [ Mar 18 ]
James Clifford, “Paradise” in Routes: Travel and Translation in the late Twentieth Century
Elizabeth Edwards, Raw Histories: Photographs, Anthropology, and Museums, 183-209, 235-237.
Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer, “Incongruous Images: ’Before, During, and After’ the Holocaust,” History and Theory 48 (December 2009): 9-25.
Brown and Peers, Pictures Bring Us Messages (UTP, 2006), excerpts tba.
Part D: Seeing (Reprised)
10. Landscapes of Power [ Mar 25 ]
Jeremy Foster, “Capturing and Losing the ‘Lie of the Land’: Railway Photography and Colonial Nationalism in Early Twentieth-Century South Africa,” in Picturing Place
David Nye, “Visualizing Eternity: Photographic Constructions of the Grand Canyon,” in Picturing Place
Finis Dunaway, Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform, Chapter 5 – “Nature on the Coffee Table”
Scott Kirsch, “Watching the Bombs Go Off: Photography, Nuclear Landscapes, and Spectator Democracy,” Antipode 29, 3 (1997): 227-255. (online)
12. Student Presentation / mini-conference [ April 1 and 8 – arrangements for this tba]