Photography in Context

Margaret Sartor
Lisa McCarty
LS 770-34
Fall 2016
Tuesdays, 6:15-8:45 PM, Aug. 30-Nov. 29 (no class on Oct. 11)
Perkins Rubenstein 150

Course Description:

            This course will be taught as a research and writing seminar closely connected to the ADA and to visiting photographers whose work is held in the archive. This course will challenge students to think critically about photography and to frame the subject of photographic meaning personally, historically and conceptually. Students will consider how photography offers insights into subjects such as social change, sexual identity, and regional culture, and how images have shaped our collective understanding of these subjects. Students will write about specific photographs or groups of photographs, taking into consideration their own response to the images, the historical moment in which the pictures were made, the personal history and artistic sensibility of the photographer, the tools of the medium, and the ways in which all of these factors come together to create a meaningful depiction of the world.


       There will be 5 short papers (2 to 5 pages) assigned in response to the visiting artists or reading under discussion. In addition, each student will write one longer paper (6 to 8 pages), devoting more in-depth study to a group of photographs in the archive of their own choosing.

       There will be a series of discussions about photographs in the archive, sometimes led by individual photographers whose work is represented in the archive.

       There will be assigned readings each week covering some of the history of photography and seminal ideas expressed by artists, curators, and critics. Each week 2-3 students will be asked to prepare questions in advance and assist in leading the discussion.      


       I will assess your final grade on a combination of two factors: (1) Preparation for and contributions to class discussions and (2) the quality the assigned papers.

       More than one unexcused absence will impact your final grade.

Required Books

American Photography by Miles Orvell

Beyond Beauty (library copy will be provided)

Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values, by Robert Adams

Reading Packet with essays by John Szarkowski, Susan Sontag, Jerry L. Thompson, Robert Coles, Tom Rankin, Margaret Sartor, Walker Evans, among others.


About Margaret Sartor
Center for Documentary Studies

Margaret Sartor is a writer, photographer, curator and editor. She currently teaches at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Sartor’s critically acclaimed Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s is a memoir of adolescence based on the diaries she kept as a girl.

About Lisa McCarty
Center for Documentary Studies

Lisa McCarty’s work as a photographer, curator, and educator is driven by her interest in the origins of photography. She is particularly interested in how technology influences image production, as well as the material and associative evolution of images.