Photography in America: From Wet Plate to Instagram

Course information


Photography in America: From Wet Plate to Instagram


Zoltán Dragon

Course code








Course description

Short description

Photography creates a caesura in the history of mankind according to Roland Barthes, as there is a history before the advent of the photographic image that is more than ambiguous, and there is a history that comes with the mechanic reproduction of reality that cannot lie. Today, the rise of digital photography and imaging has transformed the landscape of visual communication and culture even beyond the scope early critics and photographers thought it would: events, activities, moments, objects and people are ‘captured’ and distributed as images on an unprecedented scale. The course investigates the rise and development of photography in the U.S.A. from Eastman’s early experiments in his laboratories and the rise of Kodak, through the analogue age up to the digital platform and the new phenomenon of ‘ubiquitous photography’ (M. Hand) to provide a critical explanation of the technologies, practices and cultural significance of this artistic form. The seminar also engages with key contemporary theoretical issues about memory and mobility, authorship and authenticity, immediacy and preservation, and the increased visibility of ordinary social life with a specific focus on the U.S. and on the American continent.


- Introduction: Picturing America

- Eastman and the Caesura in History. (Sontag pp. 80-94; Barthes 33-40.)

- Aesthetics & history I: Ansel Adams. (Benjamin pp. 251-283; Kracauer pp. 115-132)

- Aesthetics & history II: Stieglitz, Hine (Cadava pp. 3-27.; Batchen pp. 3-30)

- Thinking Photography I: Victor Burgin (pp. 39-83; 142-153)

- Thinking Photography II: Color and Instant Imaging (Mid-Term test)

- Meanings of Photography: Artful Ambitions (Sekula pp. 84-109; Berger pp. 14-38)

- Analogy vs. Representation: Abelardo Morell (Silverman pp. 1-38)

- Photography as Archive: From Nadar to Social Media (Derrida pp. 1-48.)

- Look/Gaze: Cindy Sherman (Silverman, pp. 178-229)

- Digital Photography: Mitchell’s Reconfigured Eye (pp. 23-50; 191-224)

- America Seen: The Networked Image (Hand pp. 59-94., 146-180)

- The Dream of the Analogue: Instagramism (Manovich pp. 58-113)

- Final Test



2018/2019 I.


Requirements to get the grade

Participation – 25% (presence and active participation in the course is required)

Presentation – 25% (each student selects a topic from the course offer and gives a short presentation on it)

Mid-Term test – 15% (in-class, short written test)

Final test – 35% (in-class, longer written test, multiple components)


Reading list

  • Amelumxen, Hubertus von et alii, eds. Photography After Photography. Art Stock, 1997.
  • Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.
  • Batchen, Geoffrey. Each Wild Idea. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.
  • Benjamin, Walter. On Photography. London: Reaktion Books, 2015.
  • Cadava, Eduardo. Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1998.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Copy, Archive, Signature. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2010.
  • Hall, Stuart and Jessica Evans, eds. Visual Culture: The Reader. London: Sage, 1999.
  • Hand, Martin. Ubiquitous Photography. Polity Press, 2012.
  • Manovich, Lev. The Instagram Book. 2018 (to be published)
  • Mitchell, William J. The Reconfigured Eye. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.
  • Silverman, Kaja. The Threshold of the Visible World. New York: Routledge, 1996.
  • Silverman, Kaja. The Miracle of Analogy. Vol.I. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2015.
  • Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York: Penguin, 1973.

Suggested reading list