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Photography, Politics, and Violence

at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research - DUMBO

Course Details
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DUMBO, Brooklyn
20 Jay St
Btwn Greenwich & Staple Streets
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Class Level: All levels
Age Requirements: 21 and older
Average Class Size: 14
Teacher: Jessie Kindig

Flexible Reschedule Policy: This provider has flexible, free rescheduling for any-in person workshop. Please see the cancellation policy for more details

What you'll learn in this politics class:

Looking is always a form of political entanglement. Photographs, particularly photographs of bodies in pain, are often used as an appeal for charity, for sympathy, or mobilized as calls for a particular political project. Some photographs become iconic symbols in American culture, as the famous image of a young girl running from a napalm attack came to symbolize the violence of the Vietnam War. Others have been used for divergent political purposes: photographs of lynchings were used by different groups to celebrate or protest racial violence. 

Photographs are also used to bear witness to traumatic events, be it war or systemic poverty. Images of pain have historically been cultural, political, and emotional documents, ones that seem to cry out for social action yet are, of course, only pictures. How do we learn to read political photography and to see photography politically?

This course will explore the politics of looking, representing, and telling about violence. We will move from practices and theories of looking, photographing, and seeing violence through to case studies of two series of American photographs of suffering bodies—lynching photographs from the early 1900s, war photojournalism from the mid-20th century, and documents of refusal: when those looking, be they photojournalists, pilots, or drone operators, refused to shoot. 

Our inquiry will circle around three interlinked questions: How and why do we look at these pictures? How have photographs of violence historically shaped American culture and politics? And, most centrally, what political and ethical possibilities have been opened or foreclosed through seeing, circulating, and reproducing photographs of oppressed and suffering bodies?  Readings may include works by Susan Sontag, Susie Linfield, Ariella Azoulay, Teju Cole, and John Berger, among others.


There *is* no physical Brooklyn Institute. We hold our classes all over (thus far) Brooklyn and Manhattan, in alternative spaces ranging from the back rooms of bars to bookstores to spaces in cultural centers, including the Center for Jewish History, the Goethe-Institut, and the Barnard Center for Research on Women. We can (and do) turn any space into a classroom. You will be notified of the exact location when you register for a class.

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Refund Policy

Note: This provider has a temporary cancellation policy for COVID-19 related cancellations which is as follows:

We'll grant full course credit up to the start of the first class. After the first class we can offer 75% course credit; after the second 50%; and after the third 25%.


Original cancellation policy (non-COVID-19):

Upon request, we will refund the entire cost of a class up until 1 week before its start date. Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to a 75% refund. After the first class: 50%. After the second: 25%. No refunds will be given after the third class.


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School: Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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