Course Summary

Photography, that most “realist” of visual arts has been understood, in recent years, as the most “fictional” of visual arts, precisely because of photography’s rhetorical power, by visual means, of creating imagined, sustained narratives, from just a single, split-second exposure. Walter Benjamin has called photography “the optical unconscious,” in discussing the way that photography reveals that which is beneath the surface of reality, within the unconscious of our daily lives, as opposed to the material, physical realities with which photography is usually associated. In shifting our understand of photography from the “real” to the “unreal,” or from the actual to the imaged, we must consider the role of narrative, or the role of storytelling, in fostering this shift. How do photographs take on the patina of the real primarily because of the stories they tell? More important, how do the stories we tell about the photographs we see change their status from fleeting glimpse to historical epoch? The movement from the precise to the general, from the individual countenance to protract of an era or a way of life, is typical when photographs are looked at over the course of many years across a gap of space and of time.

In this course we will consider the relationship between photographs and storytelling. Through reading and writing about photographs in a variety of different genres, we will explore the ways in which photographic narratives are created. Will will consider captions, photo-essays, photo-novels, iconic photographs, photo-journalism, photo-exhibits and family albums.

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