Always Vanitas: Making Photographs of Beauty, The Body, and Decay

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Summer 2018 quarter (First Session)

Taught by


Long before photographs were cemented in our visual language, painters in 16th and 17th century Northern Europe sought to codify a form of allegorical images called Vanitas . These paintings often (but not always) took the form of still lifes that combined the opulent beauty of fruit, flowers, animals, etc. with the more subtle projection of these objects' inevitable decay. The (relatively) short history of photography is filled with images that seek to represent bodies that are widely accepted as "beautiful" and thus, constructed around the process of desire. Yet figures such as Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag have soberly pointed out that the nature of photography itself is centered around mortality, echoing the formal and conceptual structure of Vanitas paintings. 

In this program, students will explore the historical Vanitas images and interpret them through the dynamics and implications of modern photographic processes. Students can expect a number of lecture/discussions on these histories, and for a majority of the program to be centered around the production of a series of small bodies of photographs as well as full program critiques. This summer photography program will be a studio-intensive investigation into the nature and implications of self-representation and other forms of figurative images in photographs. Students will be given the option to work in film-based or digital mediums to execute their work throughout the session.

Program Details

Fields of Study

visual arts


Summer Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

Mon-Thu 10am-2pm

Online Learning

No Required Online Learning