Histories of Photography
This course is an introduction to the history of photography from its origins in the early nineteenth century to the present. While this course is structured chronologically, we will be thinking about photography thematically and conceptually, asking questions and raising issues that pertain to the medium and its history as a whole. We will engage with the many uses—political, scientific, commercial, and artistic—that photography has been put to during its relatively short history, as well as with the staggering diversity of photographic technologies. Some sample topics might include: photography’s pre-history and simultaneous invention(s); the photograph as document; photography and trauma; photography’s subversive potential; photography in/of California; and the ubiquity of photography in today’s age of social networks and selfies. The case studies will focus on photographic works held in Bay Area collections.
If, as the avant-garde photographer Lazlo Moholy-Nagy has written, “The illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the camera and the pen alike,” our goal in this course will be to develop our powers of visual analysis as well as description and argumentation. Readings will include both primary sources (artists’ and photographers’ statements) and essays by historians and theorists of photography (an average of 30-40 pages weekly). There will be short weekly reading responses and two longer essays, as well as creative assignments and quizzes. This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites; however, the desire to engage closely with images as well as complex theoretical readings (i.e. to spend a lot of time reading, re-reading, and analyzing the assigned texts) and willingness to participate in class are essential to success in this course.