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Photography and the Archive: Imagery, Knowledge, and Resistance

Instructor: Rotem Rozental
This is an online course (Pacific Time)

The histories of the archive and photography are deeply intertwined. With its ability to make a durable, and seemingly neutral and realistic, image of things in the world, the photograph bolsters the archive’s claim to historical and discursive authority—which, in turn, implicates photography as a technology of rationality, social management, and control. And yet, for many artists, the making of photographic art is in part the conscious disavowal of any pretense to objectivity. If photography is an essential fixture of the archive, it’s also a means of resistance—of creating images, narratives, and visual cultures that challenge, subvert, or transform prevailing discursive and visual systems. How can we understand the relationship between photography and the archive? In what ways are they mutually constitutive? In what ways have they stood at odds? And, why has the archive proved so persistently fascinating (as well as repulsive) to photographic artists? What might it mean to create a counter-archive, either outside the archive or within?

In this course, we will explore contemporary writings about archives and photography, including works by Paula Amad, Robin Kelsey, Benjamin Buchloch, and Ann Laura Stoler, as we attempt to untangle the connections between archival systems, photography, and procedures of social and governmental control. We will examine artistic projects, such as Walid Raad’s Atlas Group, that harness archival materials, procedures and structures as a basis for counter-archives, and explore the narrative-making potentialities of private photographic collections and repositories, including family albums. As we go, we will ask: what is the archive, and why is it seemingly foundational to the nation state and the formation of national identity? In what ways has photography been enlisted in the archival project, and how have photographers conformed and resisted? Can the archive be a space for recording and remembering collective traumas and atrocities? What happens when the photographic archive is exposed and recontextualized in a public setting? Is it possible, or even desirable, to take the archive apart?

“Photography and the Archive: Imagery, Knowledge, and Resistance,” a study of contemporary writings on archives and photography, is a complementary course to “Archive Theory: Knowledge, Power, and Photography,” which is an introduction to theories of the archive. Though both traverse similar theoretic terrain, neither is requisite for taking the other. If you have any questions, please email

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 4:00-7:00pm PST / 7:00-10pm EST
May 04 — May 25, 2021
4 weeks


Course enrollment is currently only open for waitlisted students. Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.

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