Writing with Light: Poetry and Photography

Pathways to Honors, Fall 2016 (HON101)

Course Theme

photograph: photo, from the Greek ϕωτο-, meaning “light”; and graph, from the Greek ending –γραϕος, meaning “written” or “that writes”

Photographs document. They are scientific and forensic evidence. They furnish proof of a sort: that was really there. But photographs also carry emotions. They express the photographer’s aesthetic vision: that is worth recording. Or they show us the faces of far-away friends and family. Today, photographs on Instagram, Snapchat, or other social media platforms help us fashion a carefully edited image of ourselves.

This double function of the photographic image—at once an objective record and a subjective memento—continues to fascinate artists, writers, and cultural critics even today, nearly two centuries after its invention. Even though it has been followed by other technologies like cinema and digital art, it has not become out-of-date. It’s been taken up, not replaced, by those new technologies—photos are everywhere on the internet, from leaked paparazzi pictures of celebrities to your mom’s gardening photos on Facebook.

The goal of our themed readings and activities is to better comprehend the role of photography in our lives today, and to find out how the purposes of photography have changed and how they’ve stayed the same over the past hundred years. A secondary goal is to think about how poetry—a text-based medium that’s much more endangered today than photography—can enrich our understanding of the image-saturated world we live in.


Required Text

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (ISBN: 9780374532338)

Other texts available online


This Pathways course is graded. Your final grade will depend on your active participation in class and on the successful completion of the assignments described below.

Class Participation: This course will be mostly seminar-style, meaning that I won’t be lecturing; instead, you’ll be discussing issues and readings as a class and in small groups. It’s therefore important that each of you comes to class each week prepared and ready to talk and listen! See the Participation rubric on Blackboard for a more detailed explanation of how class participation will be graded.

Honors Symposia Attendance: Attend (and sign in to) at least five honors symposia over the course of the semester to earn 100% in this category. Four = 80%, three = 60%, etc.

Reading/Blackboard quizzes: We will have at least six quizzes throughout the semester, of which your top five grades will be counted. Two of them are the Academic Integrity quiz in week 1 and the Library quiz in week 6, both on Blackboard. The others will be in-class pop reading quizzes. So make sure to complete the readings each week!

Photoblog: Over the semester, you should keep a photoblog with at least 20 photographs (by you) and at least 7 written reflections (minimum 200 words) that respond to our class readings or apply ideas from them to your own photos. Choose a platform that you’re comfortable with—Instagram, WordPress, Tumblr, Medium, etc. You should be working regularly on your photoblog throughout the semester—DO NOT put it off til the last week! Be prepared to share your photoblog with me and your classmates periodically throughout the semester. Your written reflections in the blog will be short, but they should be sparkling, not slapdash. 200 words is short enough that you will have time to polish and revise them to make them clear and interesting for your readers. Your photos can be as creative as you like (within the bounds of legality)—use them as an opportunity to document what interests you, and be ready to discuss why you selected them. In the interests of fairness, learning, and curiosity, I will be keeping a photoblog this semester too and will be happy to share it with you!

Presentation: Choose a photo, or a short series of photos, by a photographer other than you. It might be classic art photography, fashion photography, photojournalism, advertising photography, portrait photography, or any other genre. In a presentation of 6-8 minutes, your job is to present your photo(s) to us, walking us through its context, its studium, and its punctum for you. Make sure to practice your presentation ahead of time and time yourself so that you will be within the time limits.

Abbreviated Course Schedule

Week 0: Orientation; Honors Program Handbook

Week 1: Baccalaureate Experience & QEP

Week 2: What is Photography For? Discuss Camera Lucida sections 1-7 and Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Scandal in Bohemia


Week 3: Student Engagement & Mental Wellness Presentation

Week 4: Studium. Discuss Camera Lucida sections 9-17; Natasha Trethewey, “History Lesson” & poems from Bellocq’s Ophelia; Richard Blanco, “Photo of a Man on Sunset Drive: 1914, 2008


Week 5: Punctum. Discuss Camera Lucida sections 18-24; Elizabeth Bishop, “In the Waiting Room”; Jean Liebenthal, “Unknown Woman in my Grandmother’s Photograph”; Stephen Dunn, “The Photograph in the Hallway”; Carol Ann Davis, “Ars Poetica Inside an Evans Photograph

Week 6: Family Portrait. Discuss Camera Lucida sections 25-30; Louise Gluck, “A Summer Garden”; Rainer Maria Rilke, “Portrait of my Father as a Young Man”; Sherman Alexie, “From ‘Bestiary’

Week 7: “That-has-been.” Discuss Camera Lucida sections 31-37; James E. Schevill, “Photograph of a French Child”; Kate Daniels, “War Photograph”; Wislawa Szymborska, “Photograph from September 11

Week 8: Individual Appointments & Academic Progress

Week 9: Photography and Death. Discuss Camera Lucida sections 38-40; Harold Witt, “Photograph of Ghosts”; Dannie Abse, “Photograph and Yellow Tulips”; Teju Cole, “Death in the Browser Tab

Week 10: Creating an Academic Plan

Week 11: Photography After Barthes. Discuss Rachel Syme, “Selfie.


Week 12: Presentations

Week 13: Thanksgiving

Week 14: Presentations

Week 15: Presentations

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