ARTH 586-640
Proseminar in Twentieth-Century Art:
Photography and the Politics of Representation

Instructor: Dr. Butterfield
M 5:30-8:40

Course Description

At its inception in 1839, the photograph was considered "the pencil of nature" and its images perceived as direct and unmediated transcriptions of reality. But as photography immediately began to participate in anthropology, celebrity portraiture, war, social reform, fashion, pornography and a plethora of other discourses, practitioners and public alike started to question its supposed objectivity and transparent truthfulness. The photograph, it seemed, could be as manipulated (and as manipulative) as any other form of representation. This course will approach the photograph as a cultural document as well as an aesthetic object. We will examine the photographers' intentions and stylistic strategies, the photographs' functions, intended audiences and reception, and contemporary theories of representation. Whether we are looking at 19th century daguerreotypes or 21st century digital images, our central concern will be how photographs convey meanings, to whom and for what purposes. By uncovering the ideologies at work, we will enrich our understanding of photography's seductive appeal.

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Last update: July 17, 2003

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