History of Documentary Photography

Spring 2014

HIST 5920

History of Documentary Photography

John Edwin Mason

HIST 5920 examines the history of documentary and documentary-style photography, with an emphasis on the United States.  We'll look at documentary photography as both the product of its specific time and place and as a creative and journalistic pursuit.

We'll study the work of influential photographers, from the 19th century to the present day, examining at the ways in which they conceived of their work and the often contradictory ways in which viewers received it.

We'll also look at the way photographic technologies have shaped the nature and meaning of documentary photography -- halftone photo reproduction in newspapers, in the 19th century, 35mm cameras and photo magazines, in the 20th, and the iPhone and social media, today.

Students will be encouraged to carry out a semester-long documentary photography project of their own design.  Alternatively, students may write a research paper on some aspect of the history of documentary photography.

All students will write short commentaries on course readings and work with others on in-class presentations about a particular photographers.

Students who wish to work on a documentary project must have photographic experience or have taken a course in photography. They will supply their own film or digital camera and be comfortable working in the darkroom or with image editing software, such as Photoshop or iPhoto.  In the past, students have produced excellent work using cameras as diverse as DSLRs, on the one hand, and iPhones, on the other.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

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