Gordon Parks, Outside Looking In

Photography, Politics, and Violence

Instructor: Jessie Kindig
Verso Books
20 Jay St
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Looking is always a form of political entanglement. Photographs, particularly photographs of bodies in pain, are often used as an appeal for charity, for sympathy, or mobilized as calls for a particular political project. Some photographs become iconic symbols in American culture, as the famous image of a young girl running from a napalm attack came to symbolize the violence of the Vietnam War. Others have been used for divergent political purposes: photographs of lynchings were used by different groups to celebrate or protest racial violence. Photographs are also used to bear witness to traumatic events, be it war or systemic poverty. Images of pain have historically been cultural, political, and emotional documents, ones that seem to cry out for social action yet are, of course, only pictures. How do we learn to read political photography and to see photography politically?

This course will explore the politics of looking, representing, and telling about violence. We will move from practices and theories of looking, photographing, and seeing violence through to case studies of two series of American photographs of suffering bodies—lynching photographs from the early 1900s, war photojournalism from the mid-20th century, and documents of refusal: when those looking, be they photojournalists, pilots, or drone operators, refused to shoot. Our inquiry will circle around three interlinked questions: How and why do we look at these pictures? How have photographs of violence historically shaped American culture and politics? And, most centrally, what political and ethical possibilities have been opened or foreclosed through seeing, circulating, and reproducing photographs of oppressed and suffering bodies? Readings may include works by Susan Sontag, Susie Linfield, Ariella Azoulay, Teju Cole, and John Berger, among others.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30
June 03 — June 24, 2019
4 weeks


Registration Open

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