Course Description

This practice-based course provides an introduction to documentary photography through the study of its’ history and how it evolved in the past decades. Students will be exposed to the work of documentary photographers, photojournalists and learn to see the world around them in different ways and produce their own documentary project, rooted in their personal experiences. While focus is on photographic practice, the module also requires some reading and writing about photography, analyzing and researching images and being open to self-reflection. There will be an emphasis on thinking about why people photograph, what photographs do and do not mean to us, and on telling stories with photographs.


Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this module, students will be able to:

- understand the history and main characteristics of documentary photography;

- describe recent trends and practices in the genre; 

- critically reflect on, describe, analyze images, series and write about photography;

- create their own self-documentary photo project utilizing themselves as protagonists;

- articulate the differences between fact, fiction and the nature of truth in images.


Course Requirements and Assessment

- Project Pitch (5%): a concise presentation using 10 slides and lasting 200 seconds (half Pecha Kucha format), proposing the idea of the  project to the class, clearly explaining the project's purpose, goals, and potential impact.

 - Project Proposal (15%): a 2-3 page document based on feedback from the pitch, including  statements of purpose/goals/aesthetics (corresponding to why/what/how), a production schedule and a budget. 

 - Related Assignments (20%): two exercises related to the project proposal, completed outside of class time.

 - Participation in critiques and class discussions (10%): active participation and constructive feedback is expected from all members during class discussions and critiques.

 - Final Project (40%): a personal, documentary photography series of 8 – 12 images presented as an installation, exhibition, interactive story, zine or other form after instructor approval.

 - Final Reflection and Self-evaluation (10%): a discussion of the process, project's success, learning outcomes, self-assessment, and future goals, as well as constructive feedback on the course to enhance the learning experience for future students.

Course Schedule

 Week 01:        Introduction, origins & early practitioners

 Week 02:        Theory: The Great Depression era & social reform (1930s)
                        Practice: cameras & lenses
                        Assignment & discussion: spaceship postcards

Week 03:        Theory: The postwar period & civil rights (1950s – 1970s)
                       Practice: exposure triangle

Week 04:        Personal project pitches & discussion

Week 05 (exact date & location TBD): Off-campus photography workshop

Week 06:        Theory: New Topographics (1970s – 1990s)
                       Assignment & discussion: self-portrait

 Week 07:        Theory: Late 20th century socio-political critique
                       Practice: photo cataloging
                       Written project proposals due

 Week 08:        Theory: Contemporary documentary in a global context
                       Assignment & discussion: seven strangers

Week 09:        Theory: Conceptual and artistic documentary
                        Practice: photo editing

Week 10:        Rough edit presentations & discussion

Week 11:        Theory: New voices, social and political documentary
                        Practice: print production

Week 12:        Final presentations & discussion