11 Oct 2017 5:00pm - 7:00pm Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building


Join us for an open reading group in which we will explore a series of short popular and academic articles and multimedia clips, each addressing historical and contemporary usages of visual technologies. These readings will form the basis of a question-guided discussion in which we will ask how the camera has evolved as a technology of subjective observation, documentation, and surveillance.


Our reading lists have been designed to include equal parts academic text and popular multimedia material. They should take attendees no more than an hour or two to complete.
For more  information about readings, please contact Natalie Morningstar

Required Material

An Animated Introduction to Roland Barthes’s Mythologies and How He Used Semiotics to Decode Popular Culture. Open Culture. 4 April 2017.

This is an excellent short video that will introduce attendees to the basic concepts behind semiotician Roland Barthes’ Mythologies and provide a baseline for thinking through how meaning is mediated and produced in the world of journalism and documentary film/photography.

Berger, J. & Sontag, S. To Tell A Story. (1983) Part of the series ‘Voices.’  A Brook Production for Channel Four. 

In a conversation between two of the most important 20th century theorists of the photographic image, John Berger and Susan Sontag walk viewers through their differing approaches to narrative, exploring the ways in which narrative structure informs meaning, as well as the ethics of photography. Attendees are asked to just watch the first 14 minutes of the video, though they are encouraged to return to it in full at their convenience.


McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967) The medium is the massage. London: Penguin Books.
Free e-book available at: https://archive.org/details/pdfy-vNiFct6b-L5ucJEa

This classic book is an image and text based crash course in thinking critically about mediation. As compelling in format as it is in content, it is a quick and enjoyable read.


Cole, T. (2013) Google’s Macchia. The New Inquiry.

Teju Cole, journalist, writer, photographer, and art historian, asks what influence the Google image empire has had on how images are absorbed and contextualized online. We encourage attendees to experiment with the Google Search By Image function if they have not used it previously.


Cole, T. (2015) The Unquiet Sky. The New York Times.

Cole explores here the influence of aerial surveillance and drone photography on both popular and journalistic imagery. Both this piece and the above reading by Cole can be found in an extended format in his compilation Known and Strange Things should attendees be interested in reading more of his work.

Optional Reference Material

Benjamin, W. (2015) Small History of Photography. In On Photography. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Berger, J. (1967) Political Uses of Photo-Montage. In Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

This is an excellent brief introduction to the technological history of photography for those in need of some background information, as well as a canonical reading in visual history and culture by one of the most read theorists of the photographic image.

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. Distributed by BBC Four.

(Episode 1)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk
(Episode 2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1GI8mNU5Sg
(Episode 3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7wi8jd7aC4
(Episode 4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jTUebm73IY

John Berger’s award-winning series for BBC Four introduces viewers to an art historical perspective on thinking critically about art, news imagery, and publicity. This series is a companion to Berger’s book of the same name. We will return to excerpts from this series in later reading groups.


Open to all.  No registration required
Part of Power of Vision: The Camera as Political Technology Research Group Seminar Series

Administrative assistance: gradfac@crassh.cam.ac.uk

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