Assignments due 2/28

On Wednesday, the 28th, we’ll talk about the first half of Black Elk Speaks, and we’ll look at your images and talk about them. You will leave your composition book (your journal) with me when you leave class.



Pages 1-80 of Black Elk Speaks


Image assignment: For the class on 1/21, I brought in a collection of photography books in which the artist is making an argument for a way of seeing “America.” The photographer may position the photo as an instance of American beauty, or an instance of American ugliness, or as a specifically American aesthetic. In either of these instances, the argument the photographer is making defines what is American in some way. This is part of how a nation is imagined and defined, through aesthetics. “Aesthetics” is a term that is used differently in different contexts. It comes from the word for sensation, and it has to do with the way people take in information through the senses. We talked about the senses in reference to Whitman and Emerson. Whitman is deeply sensual in his description of his experience of America, a nation that he describes, in his preference, as a poem. Emerson describes the way his senses, namely his eyes, take on a horizon of many particular parts to encounter a whole that is bigger than the sum of those parts. Similarly, American photographers have argued for a way of seeing their landscape, street scene, or portrait as a portrait, also, of an aspect of the “American” sensual (visual, tactile, etc.) experience.


Your job: find an image from a book of photography or an advertisement. The image needs to be by someone who has authored an argument with that image. It is easy to see what an advertisement is arguing if it claims to sell something, but how is the way it sells also selling an image of its audience as Americans?


Find an image as described above, bring a copy of it to class—you may print it out from online or scan it and print it—and write a page or so in your journal describing what you see as the photographer’s argument. What details are included or left out? What is in the background? You might use words like symmetry or asymmetry, balance, contrast, and/or texture. Do your best to write what about what you see, and don’t worry if it’s a challenge—that’s part of the point!


Note: In a later class, you will have opportunities to make your own images. Please do not bring in pictures you have taken to this class.


Author: alarsson

PhD student in English at The CUNY Graduate Center, studying Writing Studies, Embodiment, and Writing Ecologies. She teaches at Queens College.