Images: Knowledge, History, Politics

Course Description: 

“It is a commonplace of modern cultural criticism” – states W. J. T. Mitchell – “that images have a power in our world undreamed of by the ancient idolaters.” In fact, the sheer multitude, sensory demand, and increasing impact of images are at the very core of current notions of culture and the visual; they inform the theoretical understanding of the present (as well as its relation to the past), the social & political significance of media, or the epistemological potential of imaging technologies. Against this background, the course addresses the image both as a representational sign that depicts a physical/mental “reality” and as an experience, operation or visual event in its own right. After a concise introduction that addresses the ‘truth-content’ and ‘operative value’ of images, the course will focus on the use of photography, film, and electronic media in three selected fields: through a series of case studies, it analyzes the capacity of modern “techno-images” for the production of (scientific) knowledge; their ability to display, translate or reconstruct the past, e.g. as historical source material, and finally, their entanglement with political representations of power and equality. While the first section covers theoretical reflections from Plato to the present, the subsequent examples from a limited set of discourses will, however, constantly return to basic issues of pictorial signification and of the visual as “informational excess”. Beyond illuminating the many historical shifts and (inter-)media transformations of the pictorial, the course also aims at deepening the participants’ critical awareness of their own ideas, reception and employment of imagery in an academic context.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will be introduced to  central APPROACHES IN IMAGE THEORY. They will gain insight into the operations of  images in SCIENTIFIC, HISTORICAL, AND POLITICAL CONTEXTS from the 19th century to the present, especially with respect to photographic, cinematographic and digital media, and  establish connections between VISUAL TECHNOLOGIES AND THEORETICAL CONCEPTS. The discussion of texts and images will contribute to their abilities  to STRUCTURE AND CRITICALLY EVALUATE academic arguments. The participants will train their  SKILLS OF SYNTHESIS AND COMMUNICATION through in-class presentations and papers. They will have the opportunity to  APPLY PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE in the form of image/video works.

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