photography

Introductions

A tourist at Drayton Hall, a plantation outside Charleston, SC

A tourist (me) at Drayton Hall, an historic house and former plantation outside Charleston, SC

Hello, and thanks for checking in.

I am looking forward to the semester ahead and hope you are, too. A crucial part of this course will be your participation in this blog. I hope that your posts, those by your colleagues, and the discussions that are generated will demonstrate that there are opportunities to think critically about images — the familiar and the strange — at every turn. As a result, the words that you write become part of the image’s history and the meaning that it holds, making you an agent in the creation of visual culture yourself.

This week, take the time to create an account and get familiar with the interface of WordPress. Make a comment on my post below, either about what I have written or share your initial thoughts about _Helvetica_, the movie we screened in class. You are welcome to start your own thread by posting an image or a link to an image that you find troubling, beautiful, complicated, or significant.

Throughout the semester you will post images that you come across in your daily lives that you want to talk about. Does the image have relevance to issues we have talked about in class? Does it help you to understand a concept we have explored in one of the readings? Did seeing the image stop you in your tracks, totally confuse, or confound you? You will also comment on the images that your colleagues submit and we’ll carry these conversations back into the classroom.

I’ll start things off with a photograph of myself making a photograph. Last summer I visited Drayton Hall, an historic property and former plantation outside of Charleston, South Carolina (http://www.draytonhall.org). I was on a guided tour and stepped away from the group to take a picture of the house’s facade, an example of Georgian architecture from the 18th century. The house sits at the edge of a green carpet, the surrounding landscape empty except for me and the house. The lack of activity creates a stillness that was probably rare in previous centuries when the house was a rice plantation, a staging ground for military campaigns, and a site of strip mining. Revisiting the photograph I’m struck by how small I appear in comparison to the house. That was by design, of course, as the house was meant to be a formidable presence in the landscape, demonstrating the sophistication, wealth, and power that its owners held within their community and over their slaves. Three hundred years later, however, I can confidently face off against the house, capturing its image with my camera. The picture functions in various ways for me: it is a souvenir, something to help me remember the day I visited the place and it serves as evidence that I have been to Drayton Hall. At the time I didn’t know I would be sharing it with anyone outside of my friends or family, but now it helps me to introduce several issues we will discus in class: how photographs function in society and how they can be interpreted; how visual representations can serve as emblems of social relationships and structures of power; and the ability for images to take on, and be invested with, different meanings at different times.

I’ll see you on Wednesday.