Course Description and Goals

The objective of this studio art course is to provide the student working knowledge of, and experience with, the fundamental creative tools used in fine art photographic practice. For this particular class, we will use digital cameras, optimize with Photoshop, to be viewed on monitor. If time allows, we’ll also discuss the making of archival pigment prints in the Center for New Media.

In addition to producing the photographs, participants learn to analyze and discuss their work in critiques. When regarding the images produced in this course, discussion will be centered on technical, formal, and conceptual characteristics. We will also discuss subject matter and content—and the difference between the two. In this critical “reading” of images, like that of a text, we will explore the basics of visual literacy.

To inspire and contextualize we will view historical examples from the Daguerreotype to contemporary practice, with an emphasis on recent digital work. Through this study and the production of a small body of work, each student should finish this course with an introductory understanding of contemporary photographic practice.
Course Description and Goals

This course combines research and studio components. The research topic, broadly painted, will be fine art documentary practices, grounded with an entry-level hands-on studio component: digital photography. Related to these two components, there are two expected outcomes: to give participants creative control of photographic tools (technical, formal, conceptual) prior to their leaving for study-away, but also to explore the issues and ethics of documentary photographic practice. While the research topic is broad, including theory and tradition, this course would place particular emphasis on the ethics of photographing outside of one’s own group or culture (more below).

Through research (readings, short writing assignments, discussion) and the production of a small body of work, each student should complete this course with a basic technical foundation in digital photography generally, as well as an introductory understanding of documentary photographic practice—including gaining an awareness of the responsibility involved when “taking” someone’s picture.


Introduction

For 182 years now, photography has been utilized to document people, places, and things. Photography was immediately recognized as being a trace of the real—a true rendering of nature. Only later does it become a “picture” or artwork—expressive. Of course, the true strength of photography is that it is, and always has been, both at once—objective (trace) and subjective (art). It is the tension between the two that is so fascinating to many (including myself). In this course, Framing Difference, we will focus on how photographers use their medium toward this first modality, that of documentary.

Photography can be an aggressive act and the history of photography is checkered with what we might classify as good to very poor uses of this invasive medium. For instance, I would put Lewis Hine at the positive end of things: first trained in sociology, Hine’s work helped create the motivation and resolve for others to enact laws to keep children out of coal mines and sweat shops here in the United States in the early 20th century. Simply put, photography helped change the world for the better.

On the other hand, there are the unfortunate uses of photography—take the example of phrenologists during the late 19th century: here, photography was used as a tool to measure, label, and discriminate. Most other uses could fit somewhere in between the two. Where would one place the well-known work of Edward Curtis, photographer of Native Americans, for example? And while you’re looking at Curtis, it would be natural to compare the production of Adam Clark Vroman and Frances Benjamin Johnston.

So, through study and practice, we aim to look at how photography has and may be used when crossing cultural boundaries. Students here at Kalamazoo College often travel across the globe, but these issues and concerns apply, as well, when one crosses lines of gender, race, or socioeconomics right here on our campus, in our town, state, or nation. Care, thoughtfulness, and collaboration must always be employed.