Road Trips: Photography, Culture, and American Mythos
Promising freedom in a boundless landscape, the road trip is elemental to how America is seen and how (some) Americans see themselves—and often, what we don’t see: the violence, displacement, and industrial-technological planning that’s made modern interstate travel possible. In this course, we will take the centrality of the road trip to American visual culture—to how we imagine and represent America and Americanness geographically, culturally, and politically—to ask: what can the notion of the road trip teach us about the history, uses, and meaning of photography? From dramatic excursions into the American landscape to the omni-surveillance of Google Street View, we’ll journey through a wide variety of classic and contemporary photographic wanderings, examining how ideas of road trips have shaped, and been shaped by, photographic practice, technology, and aesthetics. We will explore how road trips construct, picture, and challenge American mythos, how road-tripping photographers channel and unveil economic and social change in the landscape, and how the idea of the road trip itself has shifted and morphed over time.
As we go, we will ask: how can we understand the idea of the road trip as both an invitation to and a product of photography? What counts as a road trip? What’s recovered, celebrated, critiqued, and obscured in road trip photography? How has road trip photography responded to the changing dynamics of power and visibility in the American landscape? In what ways has road trip photography given form and purpose to the figure of the photographer herself: solitary, restless, transitory? And, finally, how can we understand road trip photography and visuality in an age of high-technological surveillance and mapping? In addition to examining the road trip photography, both classic and contemporary, of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Ed Ruscha, Trevor Paglen, and Michael Wolf, we will read from critical works by Susan Sontag, John Tagg, Alan Trachtenberg, David Campany, Geoffrey Batchen, Rosalind Krauss, and more.
Course ScheduleThursday, 5:00-8:00pm PT
September 16 — October 07, 2021