Skip Course Information

Course Information

Instructor Info:Karen Koehler
Office Extension x5672
TA Info:Caleb MacKenzie-Margulies
Term: 2014S
Meeting Info: Monday Wednesday
10:30 AM - 11:50 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) ELH
10:30 AM - 11:50 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) ELH

This course will be a selective examination of the history of photography in Europe and the U.S., from the earliest daguerreotypes in the 19th century to the digital works of the present. We will consider the evolution of photography in relationship to other art forms, including architecture, literature, painting, collage, video, performance, printmaking, and film. We will treat the photograph as an art historical document, and above all, interrogate the works as aesthetically resonant reflections of specific historical moments. This will be a rigorous critical examination of both canonical and non-canonical photographs, and we will work to link the "decisive moment" of the image to those social, political, cultural and intellectual moments in the past that informed their creation and reception. Students will be responsible for a series of presentations and papers, trips to Five College Museums, and a final student symposium on contemporary photography, including global perspectives.

Course Objectives:


I. Each student will be expected to participate in class discussions and to prepare questions and facilitate discussion on one day in particular. Your discussion should be integrative and not simply repetitive summations of the readings. The content of the readings and the points you chose to highlight will then be applied directly to images, incorporating discussion by the class as a whole.

 II. Each student will also participate in a student symposium at the end of the semester on “Photography from 1970 to the Present.” For our symposium, you will be grouped into panels, and will present together followed by discussion. There will be some time spent in class preparing for the symposium. Each student will present one image from a selection of late 20th and 21st century photographers.


I. After choosing a photograph from the Robert Lisle Collection, each student will write a formal analysis of the photograph, using Sarkowski's terminology.  This paper is meant to be a very specific analysis of the photograph itself, based upon direct visual evidence. (3 pages)

 II. Each student will write on a pictorialist photograph by Alfred Stieglitz, making use of specific essays from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The purpose of this paper is to how it is possible to reconstruct a historical context, and to adopt a historical attitude contemporaneous with the writers and the photographer; a draft must be reviewed by the writing center. (3-5 pages)

 III. You will be asked to write a short addendum to your first paper, based on readings of photographic theory. Revisit your analysis. Considering different theoretical approaches and philosophical ways of looking at photography: What would you say now? How do you see differently? (1-2 pages)

 IV. Your paper from the final presentation should be the final object in your course portfolio. The text should be about 3 pages, with a bibliography, footnotes, and copy of the photograph.


Throughout the semester students will gather images and select passages from the class presentations and discussions as well as the weekly readings, and create their own archive of images and passages. You should choose a selection of photographs that you feel are aesthetically good (or bad), historically or theoretically resonant, technically noteworthy, representative of particular movements or developments, or for some other reason strike you as appealing or provocative. Take ownership of the identifying data (artist, title, date, place, and process). In other words, know the images you have selected. As you read the texts and essays, you should similarly pick out passages that strike you as particularly interesting, challenging, critically astute (or not), or otherwise useful in your historical understanding, formal analysis, and theoretical approach to photography. Put briefly: WHAT PHOTOS AND WRITINGS MAKE YOU THINK, STRUGGLE, OR SURPRISE YOU? The archive that you create will become the basis for your participation in two class “write-ins”—questions that will ask you to synthesize, compare or contrast the images and texts in your archive. To help you stay on track there will be check-ins throughout the semester.


Each student will keep a portfolio throughout the semester that will include their image & excerpt archive and write-ins, as well as all versions of their papers, etc. Due May 7th

Evaluation Criteria:

Every student is required to complete all assignments and participate actively and respectfully in class discussions. There are no more than 3 unexcused absences. It is not possible to receive an evaluation without completing all required work, including expected attendance. There are no extensions unless approved prior to the due date. There are no incompletes without prior approval, and only due to extenuating circumstances.  Each student is expected to spend a minimum of at least between 6-8 hours (average) of time outside of class. This time includes reading, writing, research, as well as image study, including field trips to art collections and museums.

No phones, tablets or computers can be open or in use during class time. No recording of any kind. Arrive on time, and use the restroom before you come to class; do not wander in and out of class.

Additional Info:

There are three textbooks for this course, available at Amherst Books:

 Susan Sontag, On Photography;

Naomi Rosenberg, World History of Photography;

Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.

In addition, the course web page will include primary and secondary historical, critical, and theoretical readings for papers, class discussion and write-ins. Laptops are not allowed in class, and you will want to reference your readings during discussion; printing out your readings or taking notes is essential.