MIT course - Documentary Photography and Photojournalism: Still Images of a World in Motion
This course is an introduction to the great tradition of documentary photography. Students learn to see the world around them in a new way and produce a documentary project. The course requires reading and writing about photography, as well as doing it on a regular basis. The class emphasis is on thinking about why people photograph, what photographs do and do not mean to us, and on doing documentary work, on telling stories with photographs. This is not a technical class, and it should not be considered an "introduction to photography." I work on the assumption that any student signing up for the class has at least a minimal sense of the difference between f stops and T stops, and can find his or her way around a camera. While there will be some technical discussion in class, it will be limited.
Do you need to own fancy equipment to take this class? No. But you do need to have equipment that will provide you with at least some flexibility as a photographer. You may shoot either film or digital - it's your call. But if you shoot film, it's up to you to get your film processed and scanned - and there will be a great deal of scanning to do. Which is to say that the use of digital equipment is highly encouraged.
We live in a constantly moving world, and everywhere we turn we see moving images of that world. Even our music has been transformed into moving images through the medium of music videos. Given that, one must ask what role, if any, still photography in general, and traditional documentary photography and photojournalism in particular, play in our perception of the world around us.
While this is a photography course, you must be able to communicate about your photographs, and, therefore there will be heavy emphasis on writing. Students will be required to write three, 500 word essays, in addition to the writing for the final project.
You will be exposed to the work of a number of great documentary photographers and photojournalists, as well as to writing about the documentary tradition. Further, you will work throughout the term on a photo documentary project of your own, attempting to reduce a tiny area of the moving world to a set of still images that convey what the viewer needs to know about what you saw — without hearing the sounds, smelling the odors, experiencing what was happening outside the viewfinder, and without seeing the motion. You will also write a paper about the subject of your photo documentary.
Your finished project will consist of 20 to 30 images, and 1500-2000 words of explanatory text. The text and photographs should, together, present the uninitiated with an understandable, engaging, 'picture' of your subject, but the writing and the photos should each stand on their own, and be integrated for presentation on the Web.
Class enrollment will be limited to a maximum of 15 students to allow for sufficient review/criticism in class, of your individual work. You will be expected to have your own photographic equipment, and will be responsible for your own processing and scanning — which you may do yourself or have done commercially. You may use digital cameras, and you need not have sophisticated photo equipment, but you must demonstrate at least basic proficiency with the equipment you already have.
MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism
Plagiarism—use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.
Instructor: Prof. B. D. Colen
MIT Course Number 21W.749 / CMS.935
As Taught In Spring 2009
Level: Undergraduate / Graduate