03 September 2010

Mark & Jim's Big Adventure (Round 2) ~ Approaching Visual Images: Photography, Politics & Political Science

Today is cloudy in Washington, D.C. thanks to hurricane Earl. I am here for the annual American Political Science Association conference. In a sort of 'blow your own horn' way, I thought I'd explain what I am up to. Like most academic conferences this one consists mostly of panels of people presenting their research. I am not doing that this year. Instead, for the second year, I spent the first day of the conference collaborating with a bunch of (mostly) young faculty members and graduate students on problems surrounding doing work on visual imagery. Here is a description of the short course that a colleague and I coordinated:
Short Course #14 ~ Approaching Visual Images: Photography, Politics & Political Science

Conveners: Mark Reinhardt, Williams College and Jim Johnson, University of Rochester

The domain of contemporary politics is saturated with visual images, particularly with photographic images. This is the second year we are organizing this short course. It will explore the ways politics and photography intersect from a variety of vantage points. We intend the course to be interactive and encourage participants from any sub-field. We offer this course as an initial step toward expanding the space within political science where scholars might devote sustained attention to the visual dimensions of politics. The course is an independent initiative, not sponsored by the APSA or any formal group or organization. There is no fee for the course. However, because space is limited and because we plan to circulate a set of background readings, we ask participants to contact either or both of the course conveners no later than August 7th. Please contact one of the conveners with any questions regarding more detailed plans for the courses.
Mark, of course, is the fellow who co-curated this terrific exhibition a few years back. That means, in other words, that he has some professional experience in this area while I am more or less making things up as I go along. Given that the discipline of political science is largely oblivious to visual imagery in general and photography in particular, nearly anyone working on the broad terrain is making things up as they go. We are hoping to create a network of people who can aid one another in that process. Here is the more detailed description of how the course was structured:
Session 1 - Pictures & Political Science: We will distribute a couple of papers of our own and will do so once we have gathered, less as reading (obviously) than as spurs to conversation about how we came to be working at the intersection of politics and photography. Our hope is to use this time to open up a discussion about the exigencies and opportunities of teaching and doing research at the junction of politics and visual images given that this is not terribly common in the discipline.

Session 2 – Violence and Meaning: Making Photographs "Speak": In this session we will examine a variety of photographs involving explicit or implicit violence, as well as some of the critical discussions to which such photographs have given rise. The goal is to frame a conversation about how photographs are interpreted and, through that, about the political hopes and fears it is reasonable to impute to individual pictures and to the technologies of photography.

Session 3: Thinking With Photography: Politics & Power: In this session we will focus broadly on “pragmatics” that is, on photography and its uses. Rather than address the topic in very abstract terms we will discuss how a variety of photographers (e.g., Richard Avedon, Richard Ross, Trevor Paglen) have sought in various ways and across several genres (portraiture, architectural photography, landscape) to capture power, its operation, and its effects. Here again, the aim is to prompt discussion.
It has only just now occurred to me that we ought to have announced this undertaking here on the blog. Our plan is to do the course (with somewhat different themes) next year when APSA is in San Francisco.

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