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Sensing Place: Photography as Inquiry

By Prof. Anne Whiston Spirn, Alex MacLean

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This course explores photography as a disciplined way of seeing, of investigating landscapes and expressing ideas. Readings, observations, and photographs form the basis of discussions on landscape, light, significant detail, place, poetics, narrative, and how photography can inform design and planning, among other issues.

Customer Reviews

Lecture 1 - Alex McLean

I have viewed only 2 of these lectures. While the content is somewhat interesting the poor technical execution seriously detracts from the enjoyment of the lectures. It is below the standard of what one would expect from one of the foremost academic institutions in the world and certainly at the low end of the scale compared to other series on photography available through iTunesU (contrast this series with the one from The Academy of Art University).

One would hope that the subject matter would at least shine through. Unfortunately, this is not true in Lecture 1, although Mr. MacLean made a admirable attempt.

So, what is interesting about Mr. MacLean's work and why should we care? Aerial photography has been around for some time, and a multitude of interesting studies has been made of urban development/sprawl through satellite photography. What MacLean has done is more interesting and gives a much more detailed viewed given the perspectives possible - things not possible with a satellite. Growth of urban structures placed in a context.

One conclusion I drew from the work was the absolute banality of suburban sprawl. Suburban development has so effectively re-arranged the landscape and is so brutally monotonous that it is difficult to discern the geographic location. And to think that most of them have covenants to enforce blandness!

Lecture 2 was more successful. One might be tempted to say that Vergara is engaged in what referred to as Ruin Porn (see Andrew Moore's work on Detroit). However, I would disagree. While Moore, and countless others, arrived on the scene after the damage had been done, Vergara's work documents the process of decay - Camden, N.J. in this case - over many years. It is a more documentary style and offers much opportunity and, hopefully, understanding of how to staunch the bleeding.

Another aspect of Vergara's work that makes it different from Ruin Porn is the intent. Vergara often poses questions to himself about how the remaining inhabitants feel about what has happened to their environment and, by extension, themselves. He feels an empathy for the people. Moreover, he documents the institutions of decayed urban centers that continue function. Finally, it is not an entirely bleak story in that renewal is possible.

This is the future of education?

This is the future of education?