Joel Sternfeld

BA, Dartmouth College. Photographer/artist with exhibitions at Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Recipient of two Guggenheim fellowships and a Prix de Rome. Author of American Prospects, On This Site, Stranger Passing, and 10 other books. SLC, 1985–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023

Visual and Studio Arts

Art for Good

Open, Small seminar—Spring

Some 60 or 70 years ago, the idea of art as a comfort to middle- and upper-class tastes and values—more or less a visual soporific to be occasionally consumed as needed—began to come under assault. The methodologies of the Fluxus Movement, the happenings of the ’60s, and various conceptual practices of the ’70s provided a ground from which artists such as Hans Haacke or Neo Rauch could make work that was critical of prevailing economic or political realities. In 1971, when a pointed artwork by Haacke caused the Guggenheim Museum to cancel his retrospective, the then-director of the museum wrote to him to say that the institution’s policies “exclude active engagement toward social or political ends.” Unfortunately for the museum, a constantly expanding and ever-more vital ocean of such work has ensued. Using Nato Thompson’s Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the 21st Century as our text, we will examine the work of artists whose work has intentionally called for a different social or political order. Exemplars to be studied will include Francis Alys, David Hammons, Alfredo Jaar, Barbara Kruger, Suzanne Lacy, Ana Mendieta, Adrian Piper, Pussy Riot, Martha Rosler, Doris Salcedo, Carolee Schneemann, Felix Gonzalez Torres, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Ai Weiwei, and Fred Wilson, to name but a very few. In the beginning of the semester, students will respond to readings, class discussions, and prompts with artworks that relate to the issues at hand. As the semester progresses, students will also work on a conference project that is born of their own independent concerns.

Faculty

Photography as Art/in Art

Open, Seminar—Year

In the year 1839, in the sunny middle of the 19th century, three different “inventors” of what would eventually be called “photography” made their methodologies known to an image-hungry world. Two of these individuals, Louis Jacque Mande Daguerre in France and William Henry Fox Talbot in England came to fame and fortune for their efforts. The third, Hippolyte Bayard, also a Frenchman, saw neither. Despairing, he turned to his own invention to proclaim his anguish: He staged a photograph of himself seemingly drowned and lying in a morgue. In piquant detail, his hands were blackened as evidence of the fact that the process of decomposition has already begun. In a handwritten text on the back of the picture, he identified the corpse as being the that of “Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh, the vagaries of human life….!” With this act of performance art, Bayard initiated photography’s bifurcated future. Thereafter, the minions of camera-driven truth adhered to the “straight” photograph, proclaiming its ostensible veracity as foremost among its possible beauties. They called themselves “photographers.” “Artists using photography” are a different genus, the photograph constituting simply one ingredient in an aesthetic cake baked with larger intention. This is a course that welcomes intermediate and advanced practitioners from both camps. Here is a place to use the photograph as art or in any art (painting/sculpture/performance) but always in dialogue within class colleagues and exemplars in the wider world. Through readings and lectures and class discussions, questions surrounding the very nature of the photograph will be a consistent leitmotif. The work of Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Dawoud Bey, Tacita Dean, Walker Evans, LaToya Ruby Fraser, Jim Goldberg, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, Ana Mendieta, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Alan Sekula, Larry Sultan, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jeff Wall, Gillian Wearing, and David Wojnarowicz will be considered. Towards a Philosophy of Photography, by Vilem Flusser, will serve as a guiding text.

Faculty

The New Narrative Photography

Open, Seminar—Year

A photograph presented alone and without a description in words is a simple utterance. “Ooh,” “Aah,” and “Huh?” are its proper responses. When pictures are presented in groups with accompanying text (of any length) and perhaps in conjunction with political or poetic conceptual strategies, any statement becomes possible. The photographs can begin to function as a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire treatise. Whether working in fiction, nonfiction, or in a fictive space, artists such as Robert Frank, Jim Goldberg, Roni Horn, Dorothea Lange, Susan Meiselas, Alan Sekula, Taryn Simon, Larry Sultan, and numerous others have been in the process of transforming photography with their work. Or perhaps they have created a medium: the new narrative photography. In this course, students will initially study the work of these “narrative” photographers and either write about their work or make pictures in response to it. The culmination of this experience will be students’ creation of their own bodies of work. If you have a story to tell, a statement to make, or a phenomenon that you wish to study and describe, this course is open to you. No previous photographic experience or special equipment is necessary. The opportunity to forge a new medium is rare. This course aims to create the forum and the conditions necessary for all to do so in a critical and supportive workshop environment.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Visual and Studio Arts

First-Year Studies: The New Narrative Photography

Open, FYS—Year

A photograph presented alone and without a descriptive caption is like a simple utterance: “ooh!” or “aah!” or “huh?” When pictures are presented in groups with accompanying text and perhaps in conjunction with political or poetic conceptual strategies, however, any statement becomes possible. Collectively, photographs can begin to function as a sentence, a paragraph, or a larger discourse. Whether working in fiction or nonfiction, artists such as Alan Sekula, Robert Frank, Susan Meiselas, Taryn Simon, Jim Goldberg, Roni Horn, and others have transformed the reach of the photograph. Collectively, they have created a medium: The New Narrative Photography. In this course, students will study the work of artists and others and will create their own bodies of work. If you have a story to tell or a statement to make, this course is open to you. No previous photographic experience is necessary nor is any special equipment. The opportunity to forge a new medium is rare. This course aims to create the forum and the conditions necessary for all to do so in a critical and supportive workshop environment.

Faculty

Ideas of Photography

Open, Seminar—Fall and Spring

This course is a hybrid. Each week of the first semester, a different photographic idea or genre will be traced from its earliest iterations to its present form through slide lectures and readings. And each week, students will respond with their own photographic work inspired by the visual presentations and readings. Topics include personal dress-up/narrative, composite photography/photographic collage, the directorial mode, fashion/art photography, new strategies in documentary practice, abstraction/“new photography,” the typology in photography, the photograph in color, and the use of words and images in combination. In the second semester, the emphasis will shift as students choose to work on a subject and in a form that coincides with the ideas that they most urgently wish to express. No previous experience in photography is necessary nor is any special equipment. A desire to explore, to experiment, and to create a personally meaningful body of work are the only prerequisites.

Faculty

New Strategies in Documentary Photography

Open, Concept—Fall

In the early 1980s, in response to a mounting critique of so-called “documentary photography,” a number of photographic artists turned to alternative methodologies to express their ideas and their concerns. Prominent among them was Martha Rosler, the artist whose writings were central to the critique of photographs as conveyors of truth. Using photographs in combination with text, video, installation, sculpture, and performance, her work has communicated feminist and antiwar messages in novel and powerful ways. The late Allan Sekula also coupled words with photographs. His most notable work, Fish Story, constitutes a political and philosophic examination of globalization in a manner that permits “the social referentiality of photographic work” while making important historic and theoretic points that are nowhere seen within the photographs themselves. Other exemplars of new documentary photography to be studied include Susan Meiselas, whose use of the personal photographs and writings of her subjects changes the very nature of the documentary process and gives a voice to those who have previously been spoken for. Her Kurdistan, In the Shadow of History will be studied as an exemplar of this form. The artist Jim Goldberg also employs his subject’s words, oftentimes painting them directly on the image and depicted in a highly expressionistic manner. His work is concerned with inequality and global displacement, among many other things. A number of “new documentarians” have turned to installation, using still photographs and video to create powerful, immersive experiences that forward their ideas and concerns. We will study the work of Alfredo Jaar in this regard. The  work of La Toya Ruby Fraser will also be studied, as it represents a model of how picture making may be combined with community activism, whether it be the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, or the health care system in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Weekly readings will be assigned, films will be screened, discussion will be held—but the primary work of a student in this course will be making artworks in response to prompts.

Faculty

The Ideas of Photography

Open, Seminar—Year

This course is a hybrid. Each week of the first semester, a different photographic idea or genre will be traced from its earliest iterations to its present form through slide lectures and readings. And each week, students will respond with their own photographic work inspired by the visual presentations and readings. Topics include personal dress-up/narrative, composite photography/photographic collage, the directorial mode, fashion/art photography, new strategies in documentary practice, abstraction/”new photography,” the typology in photography, the photograph in color, and the use of words and images in combination. In the second semester, the emphasis will shift as students choose to work on a subject and in a form that coincides with the ideas that they most urgently wish to express. No previous experience in photography is necessary nor is any special equipment. A desire to explore, to experiment, and to create a personally meaningful body of work are the only prerequisites.

Faculty

The New Narrative Photography

Open, Seminar—Fall and Spring

A photograph presented alone and without a fully descriptive caption is like a simple utterance. “Ooh,” “Aah,” and “Huh?” are its proper responses. When pictures are presented in groups with accompanying text (of any length) and perhaps in conjunction with political or poetic conceptual strategies, however, any statement becomes possible. The photographs can begin to function as a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire treatise. Whether working in fiction, in nonfiction, or in a fictive space, artists such as Alan Sekula, Robert Frank, Susan Meiselas, Taryn Simon, Jim Goldberg, Ronie Horn, and others have been in the process of transforming photography with their work for the past 30 years. Or perhaps they have created a medium: the new narrative photography. In this course, students will initially study the work of these narrative photographers and either write about their work or make pictures in response to it. The culmination of this experience will be the students’ creation of their own bodies of work. If you have a story to tell or a statement to make or a phenomenon that you wish to study and describe, this course is open to you. No previous photographic experience is necessary nor is any special equipment. The opportunity to forge a new medium is rare. This course aims to create the forum and the conditions necessary for all to do so in a critical and supportive workshop environment.

Faculty