Reading Latin American Film and Photography

The emergence of the field of study known as visual culture has been posited as a symptom of, and as a response to, the image based contemporary cultural landscape that, it is claimed, we now inhabit. In an age driven by the development of a globalized system of capital, rapid circulation of people and products is today accompanied by the rapid circulation of images and representations. One of the claims of the new field of visual culture is that the increasing mobility of images and technologies has made it obvious that we ought not think about media in bounded ways: nationally, geographically, or in isolation from other types of technologies and discourses. As scholar Andrea Noble reminds us, however, what is often overseen is that “globalization” is not a new phenomenon, but instead relates to a much longer history of colonialism. Latin Americanist scholars have shown that issues of visuality and textuality were crucial to the territorialization of colonial power, and studied modalities of vision and visualizing in processes of colonization and resistance to colonization. This course departs from the premise that the globalized terrain of contemporary visual cultures is underpinned by geopolitical contours and archaeological strata. We will approach the political implications of the global circulation of images through the perspective of Latin American studies, drawing examples from the colonial period to the present. We will start with a discussion on the circulation of images in the colonial context, approaching themes such as the violent iconoclastic destruction of the Amerindians’ “idols,” and the clash between fundamentally different systems of visual representation. We will then move to the 19th and 20th century, when new technologies of visual representation and reproduction, such as photography and film, developed in tandem with the expansion of the political governance of nation-states and the folds of global circuits of exchange. We will study archives related to different contexts, such as the Amazonian Rubber Boom or the Rockefeller Foundation medical surveys. Other topics we will discuss are the role of photography and film in shaping 20th century Latin American literary practices, gender and performance, contemporary Latinx art, and the recent formation of networks of environmental and social justice activisms. Ultimately, we will focus on how each of these topics allows us to think images not in isolation, but entangled with bodies, commodities, ideas, and the material structures and networks that enable their very circulation to take place.

Moholy-Nagy claimed that “the illiteracy of the future will not be of reading and writing, but of photography”. Taking as its point of departure Latin American photographic archives, this course explores the question of why it is important to study and read photographic images today. We will see how photography, its practices, languages and archives, may shed new light on some of the most relevant issues in Latin American modern history, such as migration, violence, race, modernity, indigenous cultural production, memory, and ecology.

At the same time, analysis of Latin American photographic theories and practices will help us decentralize the history of photography, revealing relations with what have been usually identified with non-modern practices and techniques, such as ritual, magic, and phantasmagoria. Besides reading Latin American photographic archives, we will approach visual culture through the lenses of Latin American writers such as Euclides da Cunha, Mario de Andrade, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Elena Poniatowska, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Bellatin, and Salvador Elizondo.

All texts in Portuguese and Spanish are also available in translation.

Previously Offered:

Fall 2016, Spring 2020