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Vice News advertisement at 120th street and Broadway, July 2014. Photo: NML.
 

THE PHOTOGRAPH (ethics of)
Spring 2014
The Cooper Union

The primary aim of this course was to accompany students as they wrote their first, fully-researched, long-form term paper. Much of the class was devoted to nuts and bolts exercises designed to introduce the basics of visual analysis in writing, historical sketching, the formulation of a viable research question, bibliography construction, drafting and revision strategies, etc. We did a lot of work in groups, and a lot of peer-learning activities aimed at fostering good writing practices.

The ulterior aim of The Photograph was to grapple with photography’s ambiguous claim to represent truth and the ethics of this claim. We did not survey current literature, but rather conducted an in-depth, close reading of four major thinkers from the 20th and 21st Centuries: Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Judith Butler, and Ariella Azoulay. We also read two keys works of contemporary speculative fiction by Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, which provided a narrative ground to test these theoretical models against.


EXCERPTED SYLLABUS
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Eduardo Cadava, Gabriela Nouzeilles, Joan Fontcuberta, Valeria Gonza?lez, Thomas Keenan, Mauricio Lissovsky, and John Mraz, The Itinerant Languages of Photography (Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Art Museum, New Haven, CT : Yale University Press, 2013)
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Art of Mechanical Reproducibility,” in Robert D. Parker, Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)
Walter Benjamin, “A Little History of Photography,” Walter Benjamin and Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Vol 2 Part 2 (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap, 2005)
Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer,” Walter Benjamin and Peter Demetz, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing (New York: Schocken Books, 1986)
Roland Barthes, "The Reality Effect," in The Rustle of Language (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986)
Roland Barthes, "The Rhetoric of the Image," in The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation (New York: Hill and Wang, 1985)
Neal Stephenson, Reamde (New York: William Morrow, 2011)
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981)
William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (New York: Berkley Books, 2004)
Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997)
Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London: Verso, 2009)
Ariella Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography (New York: Zone Books, 2008)
Ariella Azoulay and Louise Bethlehem, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography (London: Verso, 2012)