ART 388: Fascist Aesthetics

Nov. 9, 2022

ART 388: Fascist Aesthetics: Women and Photography between the World Wars (HA or LA)

“In 2022, armed with our smartphones and the platforms of social media, we all have the power to play a role in shaping the visual culture of the contemporary moment. This course considers the interwar period, an era in which such power and access weren’t always given and in which women began to emerge in large numbers as professional photographers. I’m excited to use their innovative work to open up discussions on colonialism, race, gender, and the aestheticization of politics, topics that are as pertinent today as they were in the early to mid-twentieth century.” – Jessica Williams Stark

In the turbulent interlude between the first and second world wars, an unprecedented number of female photographers became studio owners, documentarians, and artists in their own right. Using the 1920s as its starting point, this course considers the conditions that enabled these women to expand the field and explores how they variously responded to the political upheavals of their times. How did female practitioners challenge and/or contribute to the rise of fascist regimes in their respective contexts? What can examining and reevaluating their work teach us about the aesthetic force of complacency, complicity, and resistance? Alongside key theoretical texts on race, gender, colonialism, and exile we will consider a diverse range of work by female photographers and attempt to think critically about the unique roles they played in both crafting and critiquing fascist visual culture in Europe and abroad. Throughout the semester we will explore work produced by Gerda Taro in Spain, Grete Stern in Argentina, Gisèle Freund in France, Anne Fischer in South Africa, Lisette Model in the United States, Ilse Steinhoff in Namibia, et al. and consider the complex contributions they made to the genres of portraiture, documentary, architectural, war, and fashion photography.

ART 388 course details