05 December 2013

Come to Rochester - Learn to Approach Photography in Thoroughly Conventionalized Ways

The University of Rochester and George Eastman House Announce Joint Master's Degree Program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management

This is one of the headlines from the UR daily e-noticeboard this morning. The story is here. Despite the fact that I have been teaching a course on and writing about the politics of photography for half a dozen years, I have not been involved in any way. So much for interdisciplinary initiatives, I suppose. The real irony, however, is that while the  program (as described) may be in keeping with fundamental views in the humanities about photographs as objects which have meaning, it really is contributing to shaping the world in ways that conform to just that theoretical approach. My own views are that that is precisely the wrong way to think about photography. Rather than worrying incessantly about semantics of photographs, it would be more fruitful to focus on pragmatics, on the ways we (a deliberately ambiguous term) use photography and the purposes for which we do so. Recently, I invoked Rancière's essay "The Intolerable Image" which I think underscores pretty much just that point. And today in my class we read and discussed John Berger's 1978 essay "The Uses of Photography" which (I think) anticipates Rancière's argument in central ways.  Berger's essay is dedicated to Susan Sontag who, as much as anyone I suppose, is responsible for the view that thinking about photography (a technology for doing things) reduces to talking about photographs (objects and their characteristics). The new UR program is another step in making the world conform to Sontag's vision.

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