11.309J | Fall 2003 | Graduate

Sites in Sight: Photography as Inquiry


Investigating a Site in the Boston Region

By session #2, you must choose a site that will be the subject of three photographic assignments and a final essay of images and words. Your site can be anywhere within the Boston region. It should be a place you can visit regularly throughout the semester, a place that intrigues you. It can be your studio site or a place you are studying for another course. Limit the size of the site (all of Roxbury is too big). Thinking about the rationale for bounding the site may be key to deciphering its identity or at least those attributes that you want to focus on.

All assignments are due at times and dates indicated below. Late projects will receive a reduction in grade. It is very important to keep up with the assignments, for they build on one another and form a basis for class discussion. There will be no extensions without prior, written, consent.

Site Selection

Due by session #2. Please describe where it is and why it is interesting, why you are drawn to it. What questions does the place raise, what aspects of it do you hope to explore photographically?

Assignment 1: Light

Due in class, session #4.

Photograph your site with respect to qualities of light, especially aspects of light that are particular to your site, as well as to time of day, weather, and season. Take photographs at different times of day on different days.

Plan your time so that you have a roll of slide film developed in time for class. Use color slide film that can be processed overnight, such as Kodak Ektachrome or Fuji. You may also use a digital camera.

Select 6 images for projection and discussion during class and bring them with you. Please come a few minutes early in order to load your images on the computer or put your slides in the carousel before class. If you cannot come early, make arrangements for someone else to load your images before class.

Begin to develop your website. Create separate sections for this and subsequent assignments on Significant Detail and Poetics. Consider including passages from your journals.

Assignment 2: Significant Detail

Due in class, session #8.

Telling details signify: black streaks streaming down a rocky, desert outcrop trace ephemeral waterfalls from rare rains, point to a refuge; a stone at the gateway to a forest sanctuary, polished by thousands of touches, reveals reverence. Great artists use detail tellingly. Hans Holbein’s sketch of a marksman shows mainly his face, the one eye closed, the other sighting down the crossbow. The squinting, sighting eye is the darkest, most detailed part of the drawing; the rest is drawn lightly, roughly, as if out of focus. Good photographers are close observers; they choose what to frame, how, and what to place in sharpest focus in order to highlight significant detail. Dorothea Lange kept journals where she jotted the telling details she recorded in photographs: a country churchyard’s acre, its bare soil swept with dogwood brooms, the parishioner’s hand-made gloves (The American Country Woman). Details reveal important truths, an idea as relevant to the scientific study of landscape, to architecture and poetry, as it is to photography. Physical diagnosis, in medicine, in landscape, is the art of culling the significant from a welter of irrelevant detail.

Photograph significant details of your site, details that are clues to your site’s particular character and that embody or refer to larger stories.

Select 6 slides for projection and discussion during class and bring them with you to class. Please come a few minutes early in order to load your images on the computer or put your slides in the carousel before class.

Assignment 3: Poetics

Due in class, session #11.

Landscape is meaningful and expressive; it can be poetic, rhetorical, polemical, as well as pragmatic. Landscape meaning is complex, layered, ambiguous, never simple or linear. A river flows, provides, creates, destroys, simultaneously a path and a boundary, even a gateway. Fire consumes, transforms, and renews. A circle is hierarchical–it has a center–yet non-hierarchical–all points along the circumference are equidistant from the center. Multiple meanings are the source of metaphor and other tropes, as well. Metaphor and irony juxtapose meanings: harmonious, contrasting, or conflicting. Figures of speech are rarely isolated in landscape; combined, overlapped, juxtaposed, they introduce correspondences, prompt reflection, invite investment of meaning.

Revisit and reflect on your site in light of the readings for the class on “Landscape Poetics.” Photograph your site from the perspective of rhetorical expression, both your own and the implied and implicit expression of those who live in or use the site. Review the slides you have already taken in light of this topic. This is the last assignment before the final project, the essay of images and words you will create to express the particular qualities of your site, to interpret its character, to tell its story(ies). Begin to identify the stories you want to tell and use this assignment to advance your thinking.

Select 6 images for projection and discussion during class and bring them with you. Give each image a title. Put them in a sequence that makes that brings the individual images into dialogue. Please come a few minutes early in order to load your website or put your slides in the carousel before class.

Continue to develop your website, with separate sections for the assignment on Light, Significant Detail, and Poetics (though some images may serve in both categories). You may wish to include passages from your journals.

Final Assignment: Essay

Storyboard draft of essay due at conferences with individual students, session #12. Narrative sketch problem due in class, session #13. Draft of website essay due online for conferences with individual students, session #14. Final Photo Essay due online, session #15.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2003
Learning Resource Types
Media Assignments with Examples
Written Assignments