In recent decades, critical analyses of photography are increasingly concerned with questions of audience engagement and technological production. This course embarks upon a study of historical and theoretical perspectives on photography—from experiments in daguerreotype to current practices in the digital sphere, including social media—by analyzing the different forms in which photographs are distributed, circulated, and consumed. Whether seen as a machine for reproducing images, a fashionable toy for the masses, a pastime for amateurs, a generator of profit, a tool for scientific inquiry, or a device for categorizing and classifying populations, the question of circulation has haunted photography since the 19th century, constantly affecting the way that photography is understood and discussed. Leveraging this historical background, we will take our inquiry into the new millennium, challenging contemporary assumptions about its “new” media, and investigating photography as a heterogeneous, stratified phenomenon.
Our inquiry will begin with earlier forms of photographic circulation, such as the album and the carte-de-visite. We will proceed to the photobook and examine it as a site of constant negotiation between disciplines, contextualizations, practices, and viewpoints. Other topics will include considerations of the authorship of photographs and experiences of the digital image. Over the course of six weeks, we will construct a genealogical account of the current “expanded field” of photographic circulation and its connection to print and screen practices, while taking into account its multiple points of origin. Each class session will be accompanied by a set of visual readings, such as a project, a photobook, and/or a website, which will be viewed, read, and discussed in conjunction with relevant theoretical material. Readings will draw from the writings of Siegfried Kracauer, Roland Barthes, Vilém Flusser, Geoffrey Batchen, John Tagg and Lev Manovich, among others.