‘Photography as Activism’ subject of 2014 Common Reading

A picture is worth a thousand words. It can also be a powerful tool for activists, which was the topic of this year’s Common Reading Program.

The 2014 book selection, “Photography as Activism” by Michelle Bogre, discusses the philosophy and history of photography’s role in social reform.

“Given the ways in which social media, particularly mediums such as Instagram and Snapchat, influence how students communicate with each other, the committee found this book to be especially relevant to students’ first-year experience at Rice,” said Shelah Crear, director of Student Success Initiatives. “One of the goals of the Common Reading Program is to expose students to ideas they may not have encountered. This book and its beautiful imagery illustrate the powerful ways in which photographs can encourage action and agency — two ideas that we hope first-year students will incorporate into their own experience at the university.”

Beginning with the invention of the camera, Bogre traces the earliest instances of photographic activism through to today’s emerging practices and profiles the most prominent activists of their time and their legendary images. The book features a number of contemporary activist photographers, including Jonathan Torgovnik, whose photographs spread awareness of the consequences of genocide and sexual violence and helped Foundation Rwanda raise more than a million dollars to fund secondary school education for the children.

Jeff Fitlow, assistant university photographer in Rice’s Office of Public Affairs, led a Common Reading discussion group at Wiess College, where he is an associate. Fitlow noted that this year’s selection was “a much different book” than previously selected common readings.

“I feel that with so many students traveling, learning and exploring life during their time at Rice, the book is very relevant,” he said. “It gives students some education on the choices that photographers make when taking pictures and the impact those images have. What the book explores will help them in taking pictures themselves but also in finding the truths in images they see.”

Zeke Ramirez, a freshman at Wiess College, commented that before reading the book, he “didn’t know much about photography as a documentary work,” but thought that everyone in his group learned a lot about photography and things related to it.

“It was inspiring in showing how brave photographers could be, but it also suggested that some photographers would take loopholes and alter their work, which makes it a little dubious to the viewers,” he said. “I think the book did a good job of explaining both points of view, how (photography) could be used for good or misconceptions.

In its ninth year, Rice’s Common Reading Program was established to welcome students to the university’s intellectual community, stimulate conversations across the campus community on pressing issues of the day and introduce new students to the critical inquiry, scholarship and civility they will encounter – and learn to practice – at Rice. The Office of the Dean of Undergraduates sponsors the program.



About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.