While this is a photography course, it is a photography course offered by the Program In Writing, and therefore there will be heavy emphasis on writing. Students will be required to write four, 750-1000 word essays, responding to their reading and class discussion:
Using On Photography as a taking off point, support or refute the argument that a photograph, which captures only a single instant in time, can never present an accurate, honest, representation of an event or situation.
Consider Cole's view of objectivity and the biases of the documentarian, and explain whether a documentary photographer can - or should - be objective, and what part objectivity, or lack of it, plays in the value of the photographers work
While Gene Richards is considered one of the great, if not the greatest, American documentary photographers of his generation, he is hardly a photographic "artist" in the technical sense, depending as he does on the raw impact of his images, rather than their technical perfection or beauty. Sebastiao Salgado, on the other hand, produces rich, gorgeous, technically perfect photographic images of unimaginable suffering. Which of these approaches do you prefer, and why? Does either approach detract from the photographers work, or specifically add to it?
Using examples from Requiem, consider whether a photojournalist, covering genuine news - as opposed to celebrity stalking - can go too far? Are there some things that should not be photographed? Are there areas of privacy in the most public of arenas? Where does the photographer cease being a photographer, and start being a human being?
This photo project was originally conceived by Charles Harbutt for use in his workshops. I have made some modifications in it.
This assignment is intended to test your imagination, and your ability to capture your ideas as images.
Assume for a moment that you are going to be leaving earth on a spaceship, never to return. There will not be any form of entertainment or decoration on the ship. You will not have any mirrors, films, works of art, etc. You will be eating processed food and drinking filtered urine. You may, however, bring 10 photographs with you.
In a 24 hours period, without consulting any of your classmates, make 10 photographic images that will sustain you on your voyage. We are not looking for great art; we are looking for personally meaningful images. Do you want pictures of your dog? Your mother? Or the manhole cover outside your apartment? It's up to you.
Each of you will be required to plan and carryout a documentary photo project. You may select your own subject - subject to my approval, but I would urge that you not take on anything too grandiose. I would suggest that you begin looking for a subject close to home, considering, for instance:
On the other hand, you may push the envelop as far as you dare - If you can gain access to a group of people, or an organization, whose lives or functioning we normally never see, go for it. But remember, to paraphrase Susan Meiselas:
"Faraway is not a place."
And even more important, remember that there is one thing that you owe your subjects, be they your roommates or a group of developmentally disabled adults -
Honesty: Honesty in your vision; honesty in what you tell your subjects about your project and its purpose; honesty in your approach to your subject; and honesty in what you present to your viewers.
Your finished project will consist of 15-30 photographs, and 1500-2000 words of explanatory text. The text and photographs should, together, present the uninitiated with an understandable, engaging, 'picture' of your subject, but the writing and the photos should each stand on their own.
See the project section to view sample student projects.