About this class – Spring 2012

This course introduces students to large format photography (with 4×5 inch and 8×10 inch film) and alternative photographic processes. Class projects and discussions center around the cultural and socio-political impact of the medium, as well the deeply personal and expressive aspects of photographic art.

More specifically, this semester’s course will establish links between the technical aspects of large format camera work and the platinum-palladium printing process, and the cultural aspects of landscape photography. Most often considered as a personally expressive genre, it is not widely understood that landscape photography takes its form out of deeply ingrained cultural and philosophical frameworks. This course examines some of the cultural underpinnings, both Eastern and Western, of the landscape in art and particularly as it manifests in photography. It goes on to examine how the very idea of a vista or ‘scape’, for instance as an object of beauty, or contemplation, or communion with nature, itself conditions the way communities actually shape the environment. Throughout, the course uses photography as a primary tool for investigating these ideas. There is a particular stress on how resolution, via the large format negative and highly nuanced tonalities of the platinum-palladium contact print, affects meaning and expression.

The course will also refer to a broad range of philosophical, art historical, literary, anthropological and scientific readings along with frequent viewings of photographic works. The course will rely heavily on student-led discussions and there will be weekly supplementary lunchtime lectures by guest speakers. Other material will be taught by lecture, demonstration and slide shows. The course requires students to work in the urbanized environment, and consequently will bring them to collaborate with peers and community partners, learn to photograph empathetically and express their understanding of particular issues in relation to systemic patterns.

Sewanee is in close proximity to one of the poorest counties in the nation. It is widely understood that poverty, environmental and human health, education, race and human rights are correlated, and that one may glean a deeper understanding, if not outright evidence, of these conditions from reading the urbanized environment. This class therefore collaborates with Professor Deborah McGrath’s Biology 232: Human Health and Environment (Spring 2012), Professor Richard O’Connor’s Anthropology 319: Medical Anthropology (Spring 2012) and Professor Paige Schneider’s Political Science / Women’s Studies 310: Politics of Poverty (Fall 2011) courses.

Course projects will be defined by the relationship between particular community issues and the systemic and societal dynamics that determine them. The class will also collaborate with community partners in Franklin County, and is required to attend fortnightly meetings with them at the Campora Community Center in Winchester, TN. Paramount in the course objectives is that students learn to contribute to a discourse about the human condition in visual terms.