Aaron Schuman: Aesthetics of nostalgia

Workshop by Aaron Schuman:

In cooperation with the U.S. Embassy and kim? Riga

2 days | 17 – 18 April 2010 | at kim?, 12/1 Maskavas iela, Riga

The Subject

In her 2007 essay, ‘The New Color: The Return of Black and White”, Charlotte Cotton wrote:
‘[Today], for cognizant, challenging photography…One of the most important factors…is our visual recognition that the act of making and defining photographic practice in print form is increasingly nostalgic, and perhaps calls for an aesthetics of nostalgia.*’

*nos·tal·gia  (nŏ-stāl'jə, nə-), noun

1. sentimental recollection: a mixed feeling of happiness, sadness, and longing when recalling a person, place, or event from the past, or the past in general.
2. a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past  period or irrecoverable condition.

As a medium that instantly captures and preserves the present as it transforms into the past, it could be argued that photography inherently possesses varying degrees of nostalgia, both on the part of its viewers and its practitioners.  Furthermore, as a physical object with a long and diverse history, technological trajectory, cultural presence and social importance, the photograph itself carries with it the potential to both contain and evoke nostalgia.     

In this workshop, the participants were asked to create photographic work that consciously deals with concepts of nostalgia and photography’s unique relationship to it; the idea was, carefully avoiding overt irony, over-sentimentalization or imitations of ‘retro’, to genuinely engage with this oddly powerful human emotion through the photographic image. 

The work could be made in any photographic medium – black-and-white, color, Polaroid, digital, found imagery, collage, etc. (although Cotton’s essay focuses on the re-emergence of black-and-white, it is important to recognize that color, digital and so on are equally capable of emotional and nostalgic power, if not more so in some cases).  Furthermore, because of the nature of the workshop’s focus, the imagery could explore ideas of ‘the past’ - immediate or ancient – whether it be photographic, cultural, personal, political, environmental, social, scientific or otherwise.

McQueen, (c) Aaron Shuman

Workshop structure and schedule:

The two days course combines lectures, critique, and individual photographing from Saturday afternoon to, if necessary, Sunday early morning. Initial class discussions include how to initiate an idea and approach a subject. The students are expected to prepare digital images for critique the next day or process their film and print pictures by themselves. Together with the tutor, the participants will look at the content of their personal projects, analyzing the treatment of the topic as well as the editing and sequencing of the images.

17th April: 10:00 -13:00 - Lecture, followed by a Seminar/Discussion on ‘Nostalgia’
13:00 - afternoon - Making of Photographic Work by Participants (Independent)
18th April: 10:00 -13:00 - Review and critique of Photographic Works. 

The Tutor

Aaron Schuman is an American photographer, editor, writer and curator based in the United Kingdom.  He received a B.F.A. in Photography and History of Art from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1999, and an M.A. in Humanities and Cultural Studies, from the University of London’s London Consortium in 2003.  He has exhibited his photographic work internationally, and has contributed photography, articles, essays and interviews to publications such as s Aperture, ArtReview, Modern Painters, Foam, HotShoe International, Photoworks, The British Journal of Photography, Creative Review, The Guardian, The Observer andThe Sunday Times.  Schuman is currently a Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the Arts University College at Bournemouth, a Lecturer at the University of Brighton, and is also the founder and editor of the online photography journal, SeeSaw Magazine

For more information, please visit: http://www.aaronschuman.com/

For whom?

ISSP graduates, students of photography and art, artists using photography, interested amateurs and other interested parties with knowledge of photographic practice. Maximum 15 participants.

The language of instruction is English.


Suggested preparations and inspirations:   

Along with various vernacular, professional and artistic photographic histories, you may want to consider looking at the following contemporary photographers, many of whom make clever use of photographic styles, strategies and visions of the past for their own distinctive purposes. Amongst others for inspiration:
Tacita Dean, Jason Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Jitka Hanzlova, Bill Henson, Todd Hido, An-My Le, Susan Lipper, Sally Mann, Ari Marcopoulos, Ryan McGinley, Clare Richardson, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Walead Beshty, Joachim Schmid, Collier Schorr, Stephen Shore, Larry Sultan, Mike Brodie, John Waters, and many, many, many others...


A public lecture on Aaron Schuman’s work "Whatever Was Splendid: New American Photographs" took place on 15 April 2010, 19:00 at kim? 
Aaron Schuman’s exhibition “Once Upon A Time in the West” was shown at FK Gallery at kim? from 17 April till 9 May 2010.