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Visual culture the focus of lecture series

PAPARAZZI SHOT: The actress Alice Eve, star of the upcoming movie, Starter for 10, is pictured outside a theatre in London. “This image of a movie star in ‘real life’ is from the Flickr web site, which, like You Tube and My Space, is just the sort of current image revolution that visual culture is designed to analyze and explore,” says Prof. Garry Leonard. (Photo by “Vigorama” on the Flickr web site.)

A lecture series featuring speakers from cinema, the art world and other areas is happening on campus this year as part of an overall initiative to examine and enhance the study of visual culture on the U of T Scarborough.

“Visual culture is different from art history or cinema studies,” says Humanities professor Garry Leonard, who is organizing the series. “It is trans-disciplinary in the sense that it utilizes the discourse of various disciplines, but combines them in a way that is particularly suited for analyzing the dominance and pervasiveness of the visual in modern culture.  As such, visual culture has an interest in such areas as the Internet and You Tube. The point is not only the composition and significance of the visual artifact, but also what it means to ‘see’, who gets to look, who is watched, and who is watching -- so there is a political and social dimension as well as an aesthetic one.”

The University of Toronto Humanities Centre has contributed funding to organize a lecture series as part of a larger plan to develop a visual culture initiative.

“This exciting new initiative will advance interdisciplinary studies at Scarborough, affirming and strengthening connections not only within Humanities, but also to Social Sciences and other departments,” says Bill Bowen, Chair of Humanities. “This focus on visual culture provides a broad and vibrant approach to scholarship that will benefit faculty and students alike.”

The discussions and issues raised will have a lot of reach, Leonard adds. “They will be of interest to scholars from a range of disciplines, including social scientists and humanities scholars, psychologists, artists and art historians, cinema and film scholars.”

“We believe that this initiative will keep the University of Toronto at the cutting edge,” says Leonard. “We also think that the Scarborough campus is the perfect and logical home for an examination of visual culture, given the strength of our multicultural and transnational student body.”

“I know from personal experience in my classroom that students are excited and energized by a program of study that gives them access to the many competing discourses -- visual and textual -- that they are expected to navigate in Canadian culture of the 21st Century,” he says. “Images now travel, literally, with the speed of light and is also an integral part of what we are now calling 'globalization', and visual culture is designed to examine the dynamic, technological base of the visual (the camera, the movie camera, billboards, the internet, visual imaging in the practice of medicine), as well."

The lecture series aims to introduce the methodology of visual culture by having exciting and topical scholars visit the campus and speak. The visiting scholars, all of whom have been instrumental in setting up visual culture programs elsewhere, will be able to present their research as well as share ideas and talk about their successes and challenges in setting up a visual culture program. Some additional speakers may be booked, but events confirmed so far are as follows:

•    Art historian, writer and critic John K. Grande on “Culture is Nature: The Artist in a Time of Eco-Crisis,” - Monday, February 26 from 2 to 4 p.m., Arts & Administration Building room AA-204. Grande’s reviews and feature articles have been published extensively in journals such as Artforum, Vice Versa, and others. He is the author of Balance: Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists and various other books.

•    Professor Tom Gunning, the Edwin and Betty Bergman Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago – Thursday, June 7 from 5 to 8 p.m., location TBA. Gunning is a professor in the Department of Art History and the Chair of the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies. He is a specialist on international early and silent cinema, American avant-garde cinema, Hollywood film genres, and classical film theory. Gunning works on problems of film style and interpretation, film history and film culture, and he has authored more than 100 publications and has focused on early cinema and the culture of modernity. His first book was D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film, followed by The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity.

•    Professor Susan McCabe, a professor of English from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles – Thursday, June 21 from 5 to 8 p.m., room AA112. McCabe’s work juxtaposes the work of four American modernist poets with the techniques and themes of early 20th Century European avant-garde films. The historical experience of WWI and its aftermath of broken and shocked bodies shaped a preoccupation with fragmentation in both film and literature. Her study explores the impact of new cinematic modes of representation in the poetry of Gertrude Stein, William Carols Williams, H.D., and Marianne Moore. McCabe’s books include Elizabeth Bishop: Her Poetics of Loss, and Cinematic Modernisms: The Embodied Poetry of H.D., Stein, W.C. Williams and Marianne Moore.

•    Professor Patrice Petro, the Director of the Center for International Studies and a Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee – Thursday, July 26, 5 to 8 p.m., Arts & Administration Building, room 112. She is the author of Joyless Streets: Women and Melodramatic Representation in Weimar Germany. Petro is challenges the conventional assessment of German film history, which sees classical films as responding solely to male anxieties and fears. She has also written Aftershocks of the New: Feminism and Film History, and Rethinking Global Security: Media, Popular Culture and the “War on Terror".

•    Professor David L. Eng of Rutgers University, date and location TBA. Eng is a specialist in Asian American literature and culture as well as American and Chinese literature, cinema and visual culture. He juxtaposes theoretical discussions of Freud, Lacan and Fanon with critical readings of works by Frank Chin, Maxine Hong Kingston Lonny Kaneko, David Henry Hwang, Louie Chu, David Wong Louie, Ang Lee, and R. Zamora Linmark. He is the author of Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America.

The lecture series has been sponsored by the Humanities Centre, University of Toronto. Summer classes on cinema and modernity will also be offered to students as part of the visual culture initiative. For more information on the series, email Professor Garry Leonard at

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