On Tuesday evening Walker’s family programs manager, Ashley Duffalo, and I taught the first session of a 4-part history of photography class at the new downtown central library– titled “Framing the World: Photography As Art” the class will delve into the early developments in photography and lead up through contemporary work. The focus of the class is not on the technical aspects of photography, but rather on the idea of photography as an art form, and what makes one picture a work of art, while another might be considered only documentation.
The class came about in large part due to the current Walker exhibition Diane Arbus Revelations. In giving tours of a show like this, its possible to provide a good overview of one particular artist, but often not enough time to talk about the medium in general and how others have used it. This class will provide us with an opportunity to address larger issues, which hopefully will all come together during a guided tour of the show during the last session.
Photography can be a pretty sticky issue for people- we had some interesting discussions about the nature of images and how viewers thinks about and analyze them. In training Walker tour guides to give tours of the show, we talked about some ways to interpret images.
For example, some of the questions a viewer might ask include:
o What is the subject?
o Are there multiple subjects? If so, what is their relationship?
o Was the photograph posed/arranged, or candid?
o How is the subject framed? Is there space around the subject? Is it evenly spaced, what is the angle, distance?
o How do you think the photographer felt about the subject? How can you tell?
o What is the lighting like? Is it dark, bright, moody? What effect does the lighting have on your perception of the subject?
o How would describe the photograph? Blurry, sharp, dim, bright, shadowy, clear? What details seem to be emphasized?
o Can you tell when the photograph was taken? How? Do you think the time and place is important to your understanding of the image?
Obviously this doesn’t address everything, but its a start. I know in the coming sessions we will have some lively debates-we already heard from a few people with strong opinions about both Arbus’ work, as well as the work of contemporary photographers such as Jeff Wall.
As an aside, the Peoples’ University is a great program, run by the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library, offering a wide variety of free courses for adults.