Seminar | Politics of the image. The Culture of Photographic Experience

7 lectures | 14 hours

Course Summary

The course regards photography as a series of practices, as different forms of experience rather than accepting a strict essentialist definition (art, medium, technology etc.). Thus, it follows various cultural, political, psychological, symbolical and other functions and uses of photography. Tracing its cultural history and the part photography plays in the complex media context the course focuses on the politics of the image and the reinvention of the self in the photographic experience. Other important topics of discussion are the relation between photography and truth, the mass consumption of images and its effects, the ethics of seeing (photography and journalism), digital media and post-photography. The various subjects refer to visual examples in the form of series of thematic photographies that will be object of debate during the talks at the course.


1. An Introduction: The Politics of Images. Thinking the Photographic Experience (Defining Photography)

The Birth of Photography: Constructing Memory and Desire.

Photography and Truth. The Magical versus the Mechanical Eye.

2. A Different Ontology. Aura, Reality and the Photographic Experience. Death, Dreaming, Nostalgia.

The Optical Unconscious. Seeing for Seeing’s Sake. Time and Space in the Photographic Image.

3. Technological Reproduction and Mass Consumption of Images. “The Image-choked World”.

Photography in the Age of Narcissism: The Photographic Mirror. Self-Invention, Avatar Identities and Strategies of Survival.

The World after Photography: „A Brothel without Walls”. The Transparent Society. Surveillance and Incrimination. Peeping, Stalking, Exposing. The End of Privacy.

4. Proving Reality: Authenticity and Credibility of the Photographic Image.

The Ethics of Seeing. Photography, Media and Journalism. Banality and Transparency of the Image. Selective Interpretation.

5. Discovering a Language of Frames: Grammar and Syntax of the Photographic Image.

The Photographic Paradox.

6. The Politics of Image I: Photography in Ideology, Propaganda and Advertising. Mythology of the Photographic Imagery.

The Politics of Image II: The Society of the Spectacle and the Autonomous Image.

7. A Sociology of the Image: Photography as a Practice. A Middle-Brow Art Between the Vulgar and “High” Practices. The Reversed Aesthetics.

Digital Media and the End of Photography. The Post-photographic Era.


Agamben, Giorgio, Ariella Azoulay, and Roland Barthes. Picture Industry: A Provisional History of the Technical Image. Edited by Walead Beshty. Zürich: JRP | Ringier, 2018.

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard. Reprint edition. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.

Barthes, Roland. A Barthes Reader. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985.

Benjamin, Walter. On Photography. Edited by Esther Leslie. London: Reaktion Books, 2015.

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. S.l.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. 1 edition. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Photography: A Middle-Brow Art. 1 edition. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996.

Costello, Diarmuid. On Photography: A Philosophical Inquiry. 1 edition. New York: Routledge, 2017

Debord, Guy. Society Of The Spectacle. Detroit, Mich: Black & Red, 2002.

Geimer, Peter. Theorien der Fotografie zur Einführung. 5., unveränd. Hamburg: Junius Verlag, 2017.

Hershberger. Photographic Theory: An Historical Anthology. 1 edition. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

Hirsch, Robert. Seizing the Light: A Social & Aesthetic History of Photography. 3 edition. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Kracauer, Siegfried. The Mass Ornament (Das Ornament Der Masse): Essays: Weimar Essays. Reprint. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations. Reissue edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Lasch, Cristopher. The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1985.

Marien, Mary Warner. Photography: A Cultural History. 4 edition. Boston: Pearson, 2014.

McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore. The Medium Is the Massage. 1 edition. Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 2001.

Mitchell, William J. The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era. CA res. please inc. 7.25% tax edition. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1992.

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. 1st edition. New York: Picador, 2001.

The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy And Freedom? By Brin, David (1999) Paperback. First Trade Paper Ed edition. Basic Books, n.d.

Trachtenberg, Alan, ed. Classic Essays on Photography. New Haven, Conn: Leete’s Island Books, 1980.

Ullrich, Wolfgang. Die Geschichte der Unschärfe. 1. Berlin: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, 2009.

Ullrich, Wolfgang. Selfies: Digitale Bildkulturen. Berlin: Wagenbach Klaus GmbH, 2019.

About the lecturer (short bio):

Todor Todorov is a Bulgarian philosopher and fiction writer. He is a doctor of philosophy and associate professor at the Department of Philosophy, Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. His main fields of study include: History of Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Media and Politics, Media Critique, Ideology and Contemporary Mechanisms of Control. He is currently a lecturer at the Philosophy Department, the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Department of Cultural Studies at Sofia University.

“Politics of the image” is his second summer school in TIESS (Thessaloniki). Last year (2019) Todor taught a course titled “Black mirror. Mythologies of the Future. Anthropotechnics, biopolitics, posthumanism”.

Course language: English

The course will also be available via our online platform (livestreaming and video on demand).

Fee: 70 euros (including VAT 24%)

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Transdisciplinary Institute for Environmental and Social Studies- TIESS