English 140b: Theories of the Photographic

This course is not about photography so much as it is about the history of understandings of photographs, about the ways in which photographs reacted to and filled a set of cultural needs, reshaped another set of cultural understandings, and reflected developments in both broad cultural fields of vision and in technology. We’ll cover a general history of photography since its inception with the Rosenblum book, which will ground the rest of our investigations.

Our goal will be twofold: to learn how to read individual photographs, to grasp how they produce their particular meaning within the broader mediatic and cultural field within which they appear, and also to begin to work towards a general historical theory of “the photographic,” that is, of the material-mediatic form that sustains and expresses itself through all photographs and indeed through the fact of photography itself.

In order to help you reach these goals, you will complete three shorter paper assignments, a mid-term exam and a final.

Download the Course Syllabus

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