Photography and Memory: An Interview with Yale Professor Laura Wexler
  Resource:people daily   2008-12-23 09:55:14  

Laura Wexler, co-Principle Investigator of the Women, Religion and Globalization project, has taught at Amherst College, Trinity College, Wesleyan University and Yale University. She was appointed Professor of American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at Yale in 2002.

She served as Chair of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program from 2003-2007. She is the author of Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U. S. Imperialism (University of North Carolina Press, 2000) and Pregnant Pictures (Routledge, 2000), co-authored with Sandra Matthews. Her current research centers on visual representations of the gendered politics of race in the United States and includes forthcoming studies of the writer Kate Chopin and the photographers Diane Arbus and Roman Vishniac. Now Prof. Wexler is a visiting teacher in the PKU-Yale Educational Program lecturing on the course “Photography and Memory”.

Jiang Miao and Huang Yuhan are English majors of Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Huang: Do you see photography as a gateway of researching into social problems like racism and feminism, or is it just significant in itself?

Wexler: Well, it’s a good question. I think the answer is both, it’s significant in itself as an art form and a form of communication, but my interest as a scholar is in how photography is evidence, how to use it as evidence, as document, as material for the writing of history and the understanding of society. That’s who I am as a scholar, so that’s what I’m trying to teach you in different frameworks, for looking at photography as historical work. But I would never say that it isn’t significant in itself, it’s just… that’s not what I’m interested in.

Huang:How do you come up with the idea of coming to China and teaching this course “Photography and Memory”?

Wexler: I always was interested in China, and I never thought I would have an opportunity to come, but Yale University has just started a very special little program and we have ten to eleven Yale students and three or four Yale faculty members to come, so they asked me if I would like to go and I sort of decided.

At Yale I teach a seminar about this. I’ve taught for many years a seminar which first was on “Photography and the Images of the Social Body”, then after 9.11 on the US, I changed the seminar to be about “Photography and Violence”, and look at the ways in which photography produces violence and helps us deal with violence. I’ve taught that for a number of years, and then I’m beginning to work in the field of memory. So I thought I would teach a seminar, which I’m particularly interested in teaching because I want the students to do these very active projects. It’s very hard with forty students in a room and to have them to be very active, that’s why “reading the album” project was so hard for me because I have all these thirty students there. It’s very hard to respond to all. But everybody works so hard and I wanted to respond. My boss wants it to be a lecture, at first I rejected, but he was right—it works wonderfully well as a lecture and allows more people to do it. My other course is a seminar on feminism. I thought it will work this way and they will be interested but they said “oh no, the Chinese students won’t be, and nobody will be interested in feminism”, which is of course absolutely not true at all.

Jiang: Actually, we are also studying feminism. It seems that you are quite sensitive to the changes of the society, especially as you mentioned, you changed the subject of your course after the 9.11 incident.

Wexler: I’m inspired by education that helps the students be part of the life around us and I don’t like to give people work that’s just busy work, I want you to do real work, real projects about real life. I feel very passionate about that and photography lets me teach in that way, because photography is so much about the world and our relationship to the world.

Huang: This is a book written by an American-Chinese photographer, Liu Xiangcheng, who edited the photos covering over 70 years of Chinese history. Similarly, Liu Xiangcheng took a photo of a man holding up a coca cola bottle. We see that the coca cola is a kind of symbol. In those ages, the images are not produced in large quantities and they are pictures of the common people. Does it mean that the photos of ordinary people have to be turned into a symbol in order to be remembered?

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