An open invitation to travel through the history of photography

An open invitation to travel through the history of photography

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Artist, teacher, researcher and consultant, José Ramírez has been sharing his knowledge of the history of photography for 10 years; this experience authorizes him to expand on many issues related to the transformation of the medium through the years and the impact it has had on the ways of seeing.

His workshop on history, offered at MIP, is basically about how photography impacts our lives and how it has impacted the lives of others through time. It is an invitation to tour through the images that have shaped the medium and the arts, an invitation to deepen ourselves into the images displayed in museums, galleries and books, an invitation to be aware of the ideas that triggered those images.
Ramirez’s experience includes teaching at the Center for Research and Photo Studies CiEF (, where he is director, as well as at the School of Design Altos de Chavón, where he carried out an artistic residence. Ramirez is currently based in Caracas-Venezuela, Dominican Republic and South Florida.

-Why is it important to learn the history of photography?
Anyone who aspires to embrace photography seriously, either as a profession or as a hobby, must understand the development of the discipline, from the technical point of view and, more importantly, from the aesthetical, social and cultural point of view.

Photography has become the most common means of expression; it is a form of knowledge, it has defined our ways of understanding the world since the end of the 19th century; we need to understand this journey, to identify how the works done by main photographers are connected among them, how they have become genres. This is fundamental, not only as general knowledge, but as nourishment for our own personal language.

-Within the program of the history of photography, can you mention major events that have been crucial for the development of photographic techniques and images?
We started the workshop with the pioneers in America and in Europe, at the end of the 19th Century. At the time, there was a great difference between the two continents and the individual motivations were therefore very different. In Europe, the artistic avant-garde was in full fury, Impressionism, Expressionism, Abstractionism and Surrealism changed the way we relate to the world and conceive art. In Europe, photography emerged as a discipline at the time; its leading figures and propellers were avant-garde artists, who consolidated photography as an art medium. In the United States the situation was different; the country was being built at high speed with Industrialism and Modernity, defining the initial interest of photographers for the documentation of these processes of social change.

-Can you talk about the structure of the class?
After studying the beginnings of photography as a discipline, we will tour through important moments, following a socio-cultural approach, accompanied by the works of the main photographers in each edition. There, we will see how wars, civil strives, scientific achievements, ventures and conquests define our visual needs, which are then resolved by photography.
In the workshop, we will simultaneously study the timeline of the main events of the world, the photographic milestones and, very importantly, the evolution of photography as an art medium. Memorization of dates is not important here, it is not history in a heavy boring sense; we will concentrate on making connections and analogies, which is fun and amazing. For instance, we will see how Avedon’s portrait tradition consolidated in the United States and its connection with the New Objectivity of August Sander, in Germany, and with the study work of Nadar, in Paris. Tradition does not refer to “the old”, tradition is like a big river where many streams converge.

Is the workshop that you have designed open to the public in general? Is pure theory or is there practice involved? Can you define the target?

The workshop is 60% theoretical, in the sense that we are going to study the photographic tradition in depth, but at the same time students are required to do readings, watch films related to photography, listen to music and share these materials in class. It is all about exchanging ideas and discoveries; It is like a trip we will undertake together, with a compass and a map, but varying the route according to the diversity of interests.

The workshop is aimed at both people who are just starting in photography and professional photographers, but also for critics, curators or just photography admirers. It does not require prior knowledge other than what modern and post-modern life have given us.

-When did you start teaching this workshop; where and how have you seen it evolve through time?

I have been teaching this workshop for 10 years, initially focusing on the study of the main photographers with a chronological approach. Over the years, this approach has incorporated analogies and connections, so in each session we can study a photographer from the 19th century along with another from the 70s and another one more contemporary, if that helps us to understand the evolution of a genre or style.

In the last 3 years, I have taught the workshop online, with students in different countries, which has been a very enriching experience. During the last 2 years this content has also been adapted to students of Graphic Design, Visual Communication and Fine Arts, during my stay at the Design School of Altos de Chavón. All experiences have enriched the workshop and improved its assimilation by an increasingly varied audience.

-How did you get involved in teaching photography and where?

I have been linked to teaching since 1986, initially not in Photography but in other scientific disciplines; when I decided to give photography a higher priority, teaching was part of my activities, first in Caracas, 10 years ago, at the Photography Workshop of Roberto Mata and then, since 2010, at the Research Center and Estudios Fotográficos (CiEF), which I founded and have directed for the past seven years. I have given workshops, conferences and participated at events in several countries. In 2016 I joined the staff of professors at the School of Design of Altos de Chavón (associated with Parsons NY), in the Dominican Republic. I had the opportunity to develop the programs of Photography for Visual Communication and Fine Arts in Chavon. Teaching Photography is a fundamental part of my work as an artist and a photographer.

-What is the format of the workshop that you are now offering at MIP?
The workshop at the MIP will be taught face-to-face, with eight weekly sessions, but with the possibility of permanent digital communication and coordination of attendance to the events (exhibitions, talks) that take place in the city.

-Are there any readings, books, films, etc., that might help motivate people to sign up for you class?

Photography and photographers have been present in the culture of our time, it is sometimes more natural to be protagonists of films, as in the case of films such as Rear Window, Fur, Laura Mars, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, in which photographers are protagonists, even films like Interestellar or The Shape of the Water in which the photographic language consolidates the action. Publications like 1-in-8 Millions of the New York Times, prizes like WorldPress Photo or Photo District News can serve as sources of motivation for those who want to understand the immense field that we are going to study. I recommend several readings, however On Photography, by Susan Sontag, remains as one of the fundamental books for anyone who wants to get close to Photography.