Graduate Seminar: HAND-MADE: when photographic prints were manipulated
In our digital age, photographs come into existence with one touch of a finger and disappear just as easily. Yet for most of its history, photography required extensive manipulation—in the sense of handling—to materialize. While professional photographers determined the appearance of black and white photographs in the studio and dark room, we are looking at the many irreverent manipulations of extant photographs, often by amateurs. Before photoshop, photographic prints and films were painted-over, hand-colored, cut-up, cropped and reassembled by hands, often by hands that were not “trained.” Many such manipulations spoke to desire and fantasy and subordinated indexicality even while selectively relying on it. Others, such as the retouching of photographs in the Soviet 1930s, were expressions of violence. We will contend with these different practices and look at analog photography and photography-adjacent practices that trouble distinctions between media, such as the hand-colored photographic print, the tinted celluloid film, the painted lantern slide, and collage and photomontage. Thinking about photographs not only as representations but also as material objects that can be handled and manipulated—that have been handled and manipulated since photography’s very inception—will allow us to trouble the modernist binary of “pure,” “straight,” medium-specific photography and photography’s many vernacular, commercial, and intermedial forms. How did non-professionals alter their photographs? How are such interventions understood when they more easily fit into the sphere of “fine arts,” as in the case of Gerhard Richter’s overpainted photographs? How was color perceived before color photography became widely available? How did manipulation impact constructions of racial and gender difference?
Geographically, we will focus primarily but not exclusively on the United States, Europe, and Russia/the Soviet Union.