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Photography as Social Advocacy

This course examines the history of documentary photography and its use as a tool for social advocacy. It expands upon Pacific Seminar I themes related to labor, civil society, environmental sustainability, and the media.

First, we learn about the history of war photography through an in-depth study of photographs from the US Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War, conflicts in which all sides employed documentary photographs for propaganda. The second part of the course traces the influence of social documentary photography from its beginnings in the 1880s to the present day. We examine the social impact of early Progressive Era (1890s-1920s) documentary photographers, as well as the contributions of later photographers who documented the lives of tenant farmers during the Great Depression (1930s). These photographers all sought to improve society by exposing the difficult living and working conditions endured by the poor. The course concludes with a look at the history of landscape photography advocating for conservation and environmental sustainability.

This course helps students refine their ability to critically analyze the messages that governments, mass media, and advocacy groups convey through photographs, and addresses the impact that socially conscious photography has had on our culture and history.