Documenting Philadelphia

MCS/ART 209 Documentary Photography  or MCS 275 /ART 208  Documenting Philadelphia

“The secret of photography is the camera takes on the character and personality of the handler. The mind works on the machine, or through it.”
-Walker Evans

“The camera is the extension of the eye.”
-From Marshall McLuhan

Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Flickr are just a few of the words that have entered the lexicon of our everyday language in the past decade.  Millions of pictures are uploaded to these sites daily. We live in a visual culture where moving and still images often take precedence over the printed word. We remember the iconic photos and few events escape public scrutiny. There’s a camera present at almost every occasion, big or small, recording images for our closest friends or for anyone with a smartphone or internet access.  But are we really seeing what is around us? 

In this class we will explore Philadelphia, often described as a city of neighborhoods, by focusing on the city’s ethnic neighborhoods and remarkable history. Alexander Hamilton didn’t rap his way through the Constitutional Convention but he did live at 79 South 3rd St. (now memorialized with a plaque).   Beginning with historic Old City, the birthplace of our nation , we will expand out to the ethnic neighborhoods focusing on people, places, culture, history, architecture and other aspects of the urban environment that define the character, substance and fabric of our historic city. 

There are several components to this class:

Skills:   We will begin with the elements of visualization, photographic composition and editing to create images for maximum audience impact.  By the end of the course you will know the difference between a snapshot and a photograph.

Photo Projects: Your assigned projects will focus on photographing specific neighborhoods, researching the history, searching for vintage photos through the Free Library of Philadelphia’s digital historic images collection, talking with residents, writing about your photos and neighborhoods and then presenting your work in class for group critique.  

Photo History: Through readings and discussion we will be reviewing the photos of both seminal and non-mainstream photographers.  Class emphasis will focus on photographers and photos that have captured the “other” in society, can foster public awareness, and have potential for social change.

Readings:  Assigned readings will come from a variety of sources and include a range of authors, Lucy Lippard, Susan Sontag, Walker Evans & James Agee, Robert Coles, Lewis Hine, John Berger, bell hooks; covering travel photography, photojournalism, tabloid press, documentary, ethics in picture taking, and more.

Field Trips:  There will be several required group field trips to selected photography exhibits, neighborhood walking tours, and field work visiting neighborhoods to collect images and other material needed for your projects.

This course fulfills the College’s core Art requirement or the ‘D’ requirement, and can count as an elective towards a major or minor in both MCS and Art.