“It was one of the most colorful and intriguing classes I’ve taken at Macalester—interdisciplinary and contemporary. It made me see the world through a different frame.”
--Ceren Kaysadi ’14
Twenty students crowded the archives in Macalester’s library last winter, poring over personal scrapbooks compiled by long-ago students. Their job? To determine what the scrapbooks—full of photos, variety show programs, and ticket stubs from the early 20th century—revealed about the college, the owners, the images, and the visual culture practices of scrapbooking in that era.
The students, ranging from first years to seniors, were all enrolled in Professor Zeynep Gursel’s class, Photography: Histories and Practices of an International Medium. To a person they were fascinated by these visual collections produced by their fellow Mac students of a hundred years ago—a perfect kick-off to what class member Ceren Kaysadi ’14 called “an intellectually nurturing class.”
Gursel, an international studies professor and expert in global media, visual anthropology, and documentary film, was new to Macalester last fall. Interested in “photographs as a key medium through which we learn about the world and the people in it,” she aimed to teach a course in which students would ponder what work photos do in the world, how people attach meaning to them, and how technological changes change the very meanings photos acquire.
To accomplish that, she brought in a rich range of guest speakers, including freelance Palestinian photographer Eman Mohammend, freelance Slovakian photographer Lucia Nimcova, and National Geographic photo editor Alice Gabriner, who also had previously worked at Time magazine and the White House. “Professor Gursel has great connections in the media,” says Karintha Lowe ’16, “which meant we enjoyed a high caliber of speakers.”
Gursel also offered students a wide range of ways to demonstrate what they’d learned. They could make their own Mac scrapbook, curate a film series about photography, write a review of a photo exhibit, or opt for more traditional measures such as a final exam or term paper. “The options allowed us to work to our schedules, strengths, and interests,” says Kaysadi.
As the semester progressed, says Gursel, “the course really became a community of thinkers exploring media as the vehicle through which we imagine the lives of others and increasingly our own lives.” She is passionate about photography as a medium of cross-cultural communication, pointing out that with an estimated 1.3 billion new photographic images produced daily, it’s important for all of us to think more critically about photography.
Says Kaysadi, an international studies major from Istanbul, Turkey, “We’re soaked by photography in our world today and it has huge power over how we imagine ourselves and shape our worldview.” Much to her surprise, Kaysadi found herself very inspired by the photojournalism she encountered, and calls the course “one of the most colorful and intriguing ones I’ve taken at Macalester—interdisciplinary and contemporary. It made me see the world through a different frame.”