Picturing Things: Photography as Material Culture

Although photography is usually approached as a visual medium of image production and reproduction, photographs are also objects with their own unique material properties. They not only depict the material world, they also help constitute it. As a particular type of image/object, photographs have specific modes of production, circulation, and consumption, and have scholarly potential beyond critiques of “representation” alone. This course explores approaches to photography as material culture, focusing on materiality and the evidentiary and expressive potential of the photographic image as object. We begin with the early history of diverse photographic technologies and foundational readings on photographic practice. Chronological and topical sections may cover such issues as portraiture and biography; seriality, narrative, and performance; the photographic archive as index, record, and system; museological contexts for photography of/as fine art or ethnography; colonialism and the imaging of race and ethnicity; “non-western” engagement with the medium (especially but not exclusively African and Indigenous North American photography); the snapshot, tourism, and vernacular photography; modernism, the avant-garde, and cinema; documentary photography, journalism, and iconic images; and digital imaging, remediation, and the challenge of dematerialization. Along the way, we will pay close attention to the dynamics of power, genre, and ethics across gender, class, racial, cultural, and national lines. Through critical discussion of texts, close examination (and production) of photographic objects, in-class presentations and field trips, this seminar will help prepare students to engage with the photographic object as a resource for historical and material culture scholarship, and as a cultural product in its own right. 3 credits. May satisfy the geocultural and/or digital project requirements, depending on final project.