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Capture and Counter-Documentary: Art and Photographic Realism in the 1970s

Thursday Lecture Series

dateOctober 28, 2021 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • This event will take place in person at the Heyman Center and virtually over Zoom. We ask that EVERYONE REGISTER VIA ZOOM, even those who plan to attend in person. Please read event description for further details.

  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
  • Each TLS event will have its own Zoom registration. If you wish to attend all events, please register for each lecture individually.

  • Image Credit/Caption: Allan Sekula, Red Squad (San Diego, 20 January 1973), 1973 (printed 2005).
Allan Sekula, Red Squad (San Diego, 20 January 1973), 1973 (printed 2005), several B&W photos of men, some holding cameras

In 1973, prior to the advent of the discourse of “postmodernism,” art historian Linda Nochlin declared that for modernism, “abstraction is the law and . . . realism is the criminal.” In this talk, I juxtapose the metaphorical stance of criminality occasionally adopted by photorealist painters and photoconceptual artists in the 1970s against a more literal criminalization of the counterculture and the New Left. Taking up the specific case of Allan Sekula’s confrontations with the San Diego Police Department, I show how both his aesthetic practice and critique of documentary photography respond to political struggles over the taking and making of photographs within a larger framework of state surveillance and repression. While he and his companions in San Diego such as Fred Lonidier and Martha Rosler developed a critique of modernism, their artistic practices were also shaped by the exigency of developing a critique of photographic realism and its uses by the state, one informed by the political practice of countersurveillance and giving rise to what could be called counter-documentary.

Attendance at SOF/Heyman events will follow Columbia-issued guidelines as they continue to develop. Given the current recommendations, we plan to allow in-person attendance for COLUMBIA AFFILIATES who have conformed with the on-campus guidelines. For everyone else, we're planning to livestream this event, allowing for virtual attendance.

This event also will be recorded. By being electronically present, you consent to the SOF/Heyman using such video for promotional purposes.

Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.