The Making of an Iconic Image Prof. Deborah Willis, Ph. D

Download 62.29 Kb.
Date conversion20.04.2016
Size62.29 Kb.
The Making of an Iconic Image Prof. Deborah Willis, Ph.D.

FRSEM-UA 392, Class # 18435

Tuesdays - 9:30 – 12noon

SPRING 2015- Freshman Seminar Room – 804 - Tisch 721 Broadway

Office Hours Tuesdays 2-4 pm


Telephone: 212-998-1930
This seminar explores the range of ideas and methods used by photographers, artists, historians, filmmakers and critical thinkers in addressing the notion of iconic images within photography, video and film. Iconic images are pictures that become rooted in our personal memory and are stored away for future reference through our experiences – from images of Abraham Lincoln, Che Guevera, Michael Jackson and Beyonce to “Got Milk” “Nike” and “Coca Cola” ads. This seminar will combine historical, contemporary, and theoretical approaches to address how images are constructed through media, advertising, political campaigns, war and disaster, beauty, and pop culture such as American Horror Story. It will explore notions of stereotyping, artistic and political imagery. The primary focus of the class is to critique the idea of iconic images. W. J. T. Mitchell, poses provocative questions regarding images such as: “Why do we have such extraordinarily powerful responses toward the images and pictures we see in everyday life? Why do we behave as if pictures were alive, possessing the power to influence us, to demand things from us, to persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray?” We will explore these questions and others. Oftentimes, the power of an iconic image extends beyond the meaning of its original purpose and takes on another form socially and historically. By placing these issues within a contemporary perspective, our class discussions will highlight the trends and transformations that have characterized the evolution of the iconic image. In addition to classes held on campus, we will host guest speakers and field trips will be taken to libraries, museums and galleries. Each week students will lead the discussion on an image of their own choice.
Course goals and requirements: At the end of the semester, you should have a familiarity with a range of imagery from technology, pop culture and some with art historical references. By placing these images within a contemporary perspective, the class discussions will highlight the trends and transformations that have characterized why iconicity matters. As a result of these broad goals, the assignments in this course will vary substantially. You will become equipped to think critically about photographic imagery, about processes of looking at them, talking about them and writing about them.  The goal is for each student to begin to think critically about how images are determined. Final grades will be calculated as follows:

Course Requirements*:

In-class participation 25%

One response paper 5%

Mid-Term paper 5-7 pages 20%

Class Presentation 20%

Final paper or project 30%

Policies on attendance and late work.

Please come to class, on time, every week. The success of this class will rely largely on your participation; as a result, consistent attendance is important, and each unexcused absence will represent in a point deduction from the participation grade. Four unexcused absences will result in lower grade, failure of the course; if you are ill, please do not attend class, but do get a doctor’s note. Any work that is late and without a valid excuse will be marked down.

How to succeed in this class: Always do the reading before the class meetings. Take notes as you do the reading, and bring the notes to class with three questions.  Each week (except your presentation week) you will write a 1-page reading response to the readings.  Responses should synthesize key points and offer comments, questions, and/or connections to other texts.

Here are some approaches you could consider:

what is the author’s (artist’s) argument? how does the author/curator make this argument?

do you find these claims convincing, and why? which aspects were difficult to understand?

how did it relate to another text from this or previous weeks?

what interpretation did it suggest of the photographic materials?

During class participate regularly and if you have a question, raise your hand. Always begin writing assignments well in advance of the due date. Please make an appointment with a tutor in the Writing Center in developing the more substantial written assignments. The goal is to prepare you to be active participants in your understanding of art and culture and for you to be equipped to think about what you see and hear in relation to images. Other activities, including library and museum research, team research, giving presentations, and writing papers will also be encouraged throughout the semester. 

Course Calendar 

We will try our best to adhere to a weekly schedule that will allow students to anticipate which topics will be addressed each week.  Also, students should refer to the schedule to determine when reading and writing assignments are due.  Sometimes, we will get “off schedule”; I will adjust the schedule accordingly and inform you as soon as possible to changes in assignments and due dates. 

Required Text:

No Logo by Naomi Klein and Selected essays given out over the semester. – NYU Bookstore
The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader edited by Joseph Turow and Matthew P. McAlister (READER) (links to articles)
Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, 2nd Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Additional readings: Selected essays given out over the semester
Week 1 – 1/27

Introduction to syllabus and readings/ overview of iconic images. Introduce yourself in six words - “For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.” These words were written by Ernest Hemmingway. We will look at award-winning photographs from protest movements to political campaigns and examine why they have become iconic. How can a Camera Change society? View - ICON ppt and clips from

Looking for an Icon” [videorecording]; a film by Hans Pool and Maaik Krijgsman.

  • View and discuss in next class: TED lecture by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of the single story, at;


  • “Selfies” as an iconic concept. We will discuss the concept of ‘selfies’ as self portraiture and artselfie trend of self-portraits of people with works of art.

Take a Selfie and an Art Selfie. Email me a copy the Monday before the next class class and print out for in class discussion. Review this website for class discussion.

macintosh hd:users:deborahwillis:desktop:posegrid_bangkok_.jpg

Read for next 3 class discussions:

  • A Selfie Is Not a Portrait « - CultureTwo -


  • Oct 24, 2013 - Selfies may be taken promiscuously and gratuitously but that doesn't mean that the word “selfie” should be too. A selfie is not any picture of ...

  • Selfie-portrait of the artist: National Gallery surrenders to the ...

  • › ... › National Gallery The Guardian

  • Aug 15, 2014 - Selfie-portrait of the artist: National Gallery surrenders to the internet .... The National Gallery will not be overrun by people taking selfies for the ...

  • Portraits are high art, so why not the selfie? - Washington Post

  • Washington Post


  • The Un-Selfie: Taking Back the Self-Portrait | PROOF


National Geographic Society

  • Jun 9, 2014 - Self-portraits are not selfies. They are beautiful and revealing. The good ones are extremely difficult to make. After sifting through thousands of ...

  • BBC - Culture - Did Rembrandt invent the selfie?

  • Broadcasting Corporation

  • Oct 9, 2014 - The phenomenon of the selfie is now so widespread that Oxford ... “When you think about making a portrait of yourself, not just picking up your ...

  • Robert Cornelius' Self-Portrait: The First Ever “Selfie” (1839 ...


  • Sep 23, 2014 - No, that photo of a baby with a lemur is not a selfie. It's just a photo of a baby with a lemur. That close-up of a tortoise's face is simply a portrait.

  • What's the difference between Selfies and Self Portraits ...


Week 2 – 2/3

Continue discussion of ‘selfies’

For next class meetings read:

  • “A Tale of Three Logos: The Swoosh, the Shell and the Arches” and “Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies” in No Logo

  • Introduction, Preface, Lincoln’s Last portrait/ p61

in Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon by Philip Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr.

Week 3 – 2/10

Distribute photographs to respond to in class

Discussion of President Abraham Lincoln iconic images

Guest speaker - Stephan Loewenthiel, collector of rare books and 19th century photography with a focus on President Lincoln.

Student Presenters: ______________________________________

Read for next class:

  • “Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse” by Sut Jhally in READER

  • Introduction and Ch 1. New Branded World - No Logo –

  • Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ‘60s and Beyond

Week 4 - 2/17
Student PRESENTERS: ____________________________________________________________
We will also discuss ALL the readings to date and view clips from Advertising and the End of the World

Discussion of Brands and Logos in Advertising and Art A tale of three logos

Brands – We will discuss:

Nike, Volvo, Apple, Guinness, Coco-Cola, Dove, Prada, Geico

Calvin Klein, Gap, American Apparel, Benetton, Got Milk

Read for next 2 classes:

  • Chapter 5 -Just Do It “Breakaway Campaigns”



  • “Beauty (Re)Discovers the Male Body” pp. 112-154-Susan Bordo

Bring in a copy of an advertising image on beauty – male and female for class March 3

Week 5 – 2/24
NOTE: Class will begin at 10:00am

Please meet at Bobst Library lobby meet with: Librarian Tom McNulty. We will discuss resources within Bobst and ways in which to conduct research for your presentations and final class project.

Body Image: Beauty Matters!

Discuss –Ad

  • We will continue discussions about iconic advertising, television and film images. Group Presentation today, a group exercise based on photographs you bring into class.  Consider the readings to find out how to relate your own photograph to one in our readings. You will need to work as a group, and give a presentation to the class on your findings.  You will need to discuss with the class your group strategy, what you found out, and how you found it. Discussion of the final project, especially about constructing a bibliography, and the types and numbers of sources needed for the research paper.  Be prepared to discuss readings

Read for next 2 classes:

  • “Culture Jamming” Ch. 12 in No Logo

  • “Pranking Rhetoric: “Culture Jamming” as Media Activism by Harold in READER

  • “The Outing of Philip Morris – Advertising Tobacco to Gay Men” by Smith and Malone in READER

Week 6 – 3/3

Student presenters: __________________________________

Read for next 2 classes:

  • The context of the image” – Benetton P. 235-244 in Liz Wells – Photography: A Critical Introduction.

  • Fred Ritchin, After Photography: “Preface” and “Image, War, Legacy”

  • Chapter 2 - How is Cultural Branding Different?

Week 7 - 3/10
Student Presenters: _________________________________________

Visit exhibit at Grey Art Gallery at 10am

The Left Front: Radical
Art in the "Red Decade,"

The Left Front highlights work produced by American artists amid the economic and social devastation of the Great Depression. Joining forces in the John Reed Club and its successor, the American Artists’ Congress, a group of intellectuals and artists— among them Isabel Bishop, Louis Lozowick, John Sloan, and Raphael Soyer— tackled themes ranging from class struggle, civil and workers’ rights, immigration, socialist mysticism, and utopian communities to the Spanish Civil War. Presenting prints, posters, paintings, and books—including selections from NYU’s Tamiment Library—the exhibition queries what revolutionary art was then, and what it could be today.

Week 8 – 3/17 – Spring Break

Week 9 – 3/24

Response Paper Due

  • Icons, Symbols and Gestures:

This week we will examine the “birth” of notions of human rights photography from the middle east to Cuba to China and look at the transformation of from images of human suffering through war, natural disasters, human rights abuses and the idea of the heroic photographer.  We will consider the words of Alfredo Jaar when looking at images. “There must be a way to talk about suffering without making the victim suffer again. How do you represent this, respecting the dignity of the people you are focusing on?” Show and discuss. National Geographic Afghan film, Art 21 Alfredo Jaar Rwanda Project, Susan Meisales, Steve McCurry, Gordon Parks, Bruce Davidson, Selma and Ferguson protest, and war images.

Student Presenters: ________________________________________
Week 10 – 3/31
Follow up with images of human rights and social protest photography.
Student Presenters: ________________________________________

Read for next class:

Maiden USA Girl Icons Come of Age: Introduction and Lipstick Lolitas

“Captain America: From Iconic American Super Soldier to Anti Heroic, Conflicted Embodiment of Super Power” by Louis J. Kern

in Us Icons And Iconicity edited by Walter W. Hölbling, Klaus Rieser-Wohlfarter, Susanne E. Riese

Week 11 – 4/7
Iconic films/tv Animation. We will discuss The Simpsons, Boondocks, Family Guy, Batman, Snow White, Despicable Me, Cinderella, South Park. We will discuss their iconity cross time and cultures. Also a discussion of American Horror Story

Student Presenters: _______________________________________
Week 12 – 4/14
Discussion of exhibition and iconic images of recording artists and musicians: Snoop Lion/Dog, Nas, Aaron Neville, Beyonce, Jay Z, Tupac and others in music culture. Pharell Williams. Discussion of recent videos of Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Lil Kim, the Black Keys, among others.

Week 13 – 4/21 –


Meet at the Grey Art Gallery at 10am

Born in Hong Kong and later based in New York City, Tseng Kwong Chi (1950–1990)

produced a large body of witty, playful, performance-based photography that both captures

the pivotal Manhattan downtown and club scenes and reflects the increasingly globalized

movement of people across nations and continents. In so doing, he raised critical questions

about identity and culture. Featuring cutting-edge examples from Tseng’s archive that have

rarely or never been shown, Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera is the first major

solo museum exhibition of his works, which have long sparked the imaginations of younger


Week 14 – 4/28 – Class Presentations

Individual Meetings with the Professor to discuss progress and semester projects.

Week 15 – 5/5 - Class Presentations

Student presentations –10 min presentations on your final projects you can use ppt , video, or bring examples of projects in progress.

Final Papers Due! – WEDNESDAY - May 13

Please deliver Final papers between 11am and 4pm, Tisch – 721 Broadway – 8th floor
General Guidelines for Response Paper & Final Paper/Project
Response Papers are two-page, typed and doubled-spaced responses to the readings, guest lecturers and/or exhibitions.

Presentations will be presented in class by 1-2 student(s) each week (15- 20 minutes). The presenter(s) should identify a theme (i.e.: news story, TV program or commercial, video, movie, an ad, exhibition, etc) and be prepared to address what s/he believes are the key points related to the image raised by the work. The presenter(s) should also formulate questions that will facilitate class participation. On 4/28 students will introduce their final projects to the entire group.
Final Project: You will be asked to first select an ad, essay, work of art or other visual document and then choose one of the class topics in order to research and critically discuss the ways in which an iconic image (broadly and specifically) relates to your selected project. Research paper should be a minimum of 10 pages, plus bibliography and images.

Visual projects – please discuss with me. Project proposals due: Wednesday, May 13th Please deliver between 11am and 4pm, 721 Broadway – 8th floor - Thank you

Additional readings:


“Cover to Cover: The Life Cycle of an Image in Contemporary Visual Culture” by Holly Edwards – Stromberg in Beautiful Suffering Photography and the Traffic in Pain
“Beauty (Re)Discovers the Male Body” by Susan Bordo, pp. 112-154- in Beauty Matters edited by Peg Zeglin Brand, Indiana University Press, 2000
“Rock, Fashion and Performativity” by Noel McLaughlin in Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis eds Stella Bruzzi and Pamela Gibson Routledge, p. 264-285
Nicole Fleetwood, “Hip-Hop Fashion, Masculine Anxiety, and the Discourse of Americana” pp 326-345 in Black Cultural Traffic

“Consuming fear and Selling Comfort” in Tourists of History- Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerisms from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero by Marita Sturken,

in Images That Injure : Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media (3rd Edition) by Lester, Paul Martin
“Captain America: From Iconic American Super Soldier to Anti Heroic, Conflicted Embodiment of Super Power” by Louis J. Kern

in Us Icons And Iconicity edited by Walter W. Hölbling, Klaus Rieser-Wohlfarter, Susanne E. Riese

“Did 9/11 ‘Change Everything’? Icons out of a Clear Blue Sky”

in Media, War and Security : Icons of War and Terror : Media Images in an Age of International Risk by Tulloch, John Blood, R. Warwick

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page