This class explores the creative lives of female photographers in the U.S. over the past century. Drawing on memoirs, documentary films, biographies, and (of course) photographs, we will analyze the life narratives and visual records of “women behind the lens.” What opportunities and obstacles did they face in their pursuit of artistic achievement? How did economic, social, and cultural forces shape their particular visions and styles? How did they combine professional ambitions with romance, friendship, marriage, motherhood, child-rearing, and other obligations? What risks did they take in order to break new ground with cameras in hand? While focusing on their biographical stories, we will also explore questions such as: What are the differences between art photography, documentary photography, and photojournalism? Why do some images become iconic, and conversely, why do some generate controversy or public disparagement? For photographers who have passed away, what are the ethical responsibilities of individuals and institutions (curators, museums, gallery owners, and filmmakers) entrusted with displaying and/or profiting from images in their estates? Class sessions may include short lectures, brief slide shows, and video clips, but most class time will be devoted to discussion.
Assigned readings include: Hold Still: A Memoir by Sally Mann, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario, and selections from Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife by Pamela Bannos and several articles and websites to be distributed in class. Students may choose to read the optional biography Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon.
Students must view three documentary films on their own before the designated class session; films are available on DVD at libraries or via various internet streaming services. The first class session will discuss Episode 7 from Season 28 of PBS’s American Masters, “Grab a Hunk of Lightning” (director Dyanna Taylor 2014) about photographer Dorothea Lange. Additional films include Finding Vivian Maier (directors John Maloof, Charlie Siskel 2013) and Her Aim Is True (director Karen Whitehead 2013) about rock & roll photographer Jini Dellaccio.
Students may register for either the four in-town class discussions only or the discussions plus walking tour of Dorothea Lange: Words and Pictures at MoMA.