Seminar 2013–14

In 2013–14, the seminar will continue activities related to the SSHRC-funded Photographic Situation Project while also continuing our monthly meetings, turning to the theme “Falling on Your Camera (And Other Stories from the History of Photography).” Reading non-disciplinarily and focusing on different models for writing (about) photography, the group will look at a different lineage for photography studies along the model of the photographic situation, where “falling on your camera” is an important moment in the history of photography.


Brenna Greer, Assistant Professor of History, Wellesley College

Professor Greer is a historian of race, gender, and culture in twentieth century United States who works at the intersections of African American, business, and visual culture history. Her current scholarship focuses on the relationship between African Americans’ politics and their acts of making representations. She is currently at work on a manuscript, entitled “Image Matters: Black Representation Politics, Capitalism, and Civil Rights Work in the Mid-Twentieth Century United States,” that considers how, during and after World War II, black capitalists produced innovative media images that claimed to define black America. By placing black image-makers at the center of histories from which African Americans have been largely excluded, including the development of state propaganda and commercial marketing, Professor Greer’s research disrupts conventional frameworks in the civil rights historiography that isolate the movement from forces of capitalism and enterprise. In addition to marching in the streets, she shows that blacks pursued their freedom by participating in mainstream, and even racist political and corporate agendas.

For more information about Professor Greer’s work, please visit


Symposium: Saturday, October 26, 2013: “Photography and the Optical Unconscious,” a one-day symposium that investigates Walter Benjamin’s notion of the optical unconscious in photography studies. Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

Conference: February 21-23, 2014: “Cold War Camera,” a three-day conference of papers on the cultural politics of photography in the Cold War. Confirmed plenary speakers include Ariella Azoulay, Alberto del Castillo, and Nicholas Mirzoeff. Guatemala City.

Public Talk: Thursday, March 13, 2014, Brenna Greer. Centre for the Study of the United States, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

Toronto Photography Seminar Schedule

Sept. 20, 2013, 4-8 pm

The Short Essay: Roland Barthes’ Mythologies and Helen Sword on Academic Writing. Facilitated by Sarah Bassnett and Elspeth Brown. We will be reading five pieces from Mythologies, including: “The Face of Garbo”; “The Brain of Einstein”; “Striptease”; “Photography and Electoral Appeal”; and “The Great Family of Man,” in addition to an exerpt from Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing, which has some excellent ideas for making academic writing more engaging to a wider audience.

In addition, we are issuing a writing challenge to seminar participants: please write a short essay in the style of one of Barthes’ mythologies. It should be 5-6 paragraphs and between 500-600 words, on any topic of your choice. Please send it to Gabby by September 13th so that she can post them.

Download readings here: Barthes’ Mythologies and Helen Sword, Stylish Academic Writing, excerpt one, excerpt two, and excerpt three.

Oct. 26, 2013

Photography and the Optical Unconscious” symposium at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto (co-organized by Sharon Sliwinski and Shawn Michelle Smith).

Nov. 15, 2013, 4-8 pm

Shooting the Past BBC miniseries (1999). Facilitated by Sarah Parsons.

Dec. 13, 2013, 12-4 pm

Lunchtime meeting at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Facilitated by Deepali Dewan.

Jan. 17, 2014, 4-8 pm.
“The Making of an Archive” presentation by Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen.
Reading: introduction from Catherine Zuromski’s Snaphot Photography: The Lives of Images (MIT, 2013).

Feb. 21-23, 2014

All members meet at the Cold War Camera conference in Guatemala City.

March 14, 2014, 4-8 pm

Guest: Brenna Greer (Wellesley College), working paper.

April 11, 2014, 4-8 pm

Reading and facilitator TBC.

June 6-7, 2014

Annual retreat.