21G.049 | Spring 2017 | Undergraduate

French Photography


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session



Course Overview

This course introduces students to the world of French photography from its invention during the 1820s to the present. It approaches the topic through the question of how people conceive of and use photographs. Each week provides a different response to the question, what do photographs do? Photographs capture human likeness. They function as proof in police investigations and in the courtroom. They spread the news on the pages of newspapers and magazines and on the Internet. Photography serves as a means of urban exploration, and in the twentieth century it has become a major art form. Our approach will allow us to encounter the major photographers and images of the French tradition. We define that tradition beyond simply the work of French-born photographers to include those of other nationalities who have lived and worked in France, French institutions’ international roles, and the place of photos of France in international photographic production. The course’s organization will encourage us to explore the role of institutions and printed forms in disseminating and giving meaning to photographs. Students will learn the language of formal description and hone skills in visual, social, cultural, and historical analysis.

Designations: Fullfils HASS-A ”” and CI-H ”” requirements for MIT students.

Course Goals

Upon completion of this course students will be able to:

  • Identify key figures, works, and aesthetic trends in French photography.
  • Analyze the role of photography in modern society.
  • Perform visual and formal analysis of images.
  • Craft effective oral and written arguments about visual materials and texts.


Class Participation: Evaluated based on attendance, preparation, and quality of participation.

Weekly Wiki Posts: Each week students will post a photo, question, or response to the course Wiki.

Presentations: Each student will give one oral and visual presentation about a topic relevant to that week’s discussion.

Exhibition Reviews: Student will write one review of an exhibition.

Visual Analysis Papers: Students will submit 3 visual analysis paper over the course of the semester.

Writing Advisor Meeting: Students must meet with our writing advisor to discuss the draft of the first visual analysis paper.

Paper Revisions and Expansion: Students will revise and expand one paper based on feedback from the instructor.

In-depth details about these can be found in the Assignments section.


Activities Percentages
Class Participation 20%
Weekly Wiki Posts 10%
Presentations 15%
Exhibition Reviews 10%
Visual Analysis Papers 30%
Paper Revision and Expansion 15%


Cell phones must be silenced (not just placed in vibrate mode) and put away during class time. You may use laptops/tablets, but only to take notes or access information relevant to the topic at hand. If used for other purposes, laptops/tablets will be banned.

Enrollment Limits

Limited to 25 for pedagogical purposes. Priority will be given according to the CI-H / HW Enrollment Tool (MIT students).

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to adhere to MIT’s Academic Integrity policies. All work (research papers, weekly papers, presentations) must be completed independently. Students are encouraged to discuss the readings and their projects with each other (they may, for example, want to practice their presentations for their classmates), but they are individually responsible for all written work.

Violating the Academic Integrity policy in any way (e.g., plagiarism) will result in official Institute sanction. Possible sanctions include receiving a failing grade on the assignment, being assigned a failing grade in the course, having a formal notation of disciplinary action placed on your MIT record, suspension from the Institute, and expulsion from the Institute for very serious cases.

Please review the Academic Integrity policy and related resources (e.g., working under pressure; how to paraphrase, summarize, and quote; etc.) and contact me if you have any questions about appropriate citation methods, the degree of collaboration that is permitted, or anything else related to the Academic Integrity of this course.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2017
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Image Gallery