How can early photography differentiate between reality and illusion and tell us about how photographers imagined what they were doing, whether they were creating fictions or theater, documenting reality, or “seeing” the apparently invisible—including ghosts, the passage of time, and atmospheres themselves? In this course we will examine case studies ranging from a “lady amateur” staging scenes with her children and servants, to scientists’ exploration of the camera in wonderment and imperial families’ innovative patronage of the mediums old and new. Readings will include essays by Benjamin, Barthes, Sontag, Bazin, and Krauss as well as the recent scholarship of Geoffrey Batchen, Christopher Pinney, Roberta Wue, and Zahid R. Chaudhary about pioneering practitioners in Asia, Europe, Africa, and America. Class visits to the Eastman Museum will emphasize close observations of photographs done by alternative processes throughout the 19th century.
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