Featured Course: Photography and Theory

Grad student captures marine life

THE CATALYST: Melody Jue believes that deep water can make a fascinating setting for science fiction and other literature. A literature Ph.D. student and scuba diver, Jue traveled to Mexico to study underwater museums for her dissertation, “Wild Blue Media: Thinking Through Seawater.” Her study of the field of “ocean humanities” will continue with this course, which she brings to the Duke Marine Lab for the first time this summer.

THE GIST: This course combines Jue’s overlapping passions for literature and science, getting students to question how they think about theory while giving them a chance to be outdoors. Students approach the oceanic world from perspectives of cultural studies, media studies, visual theory, and environmental humanities. Jue encourages them to use their cameras as another means of “thinking.”

ASSIGNMENT LIST: Students travel to Carson Estuary, the shoreline, museums, and marine labs to take photographs and write. Peer reviews help students refine their work. Students choose a photographer’s work to study and to think about how it relates to this course. They make websites to showcase their photographs, and they write a personal piece about how the photographs “picture nature.”

THE TWIST: While this class stresses theory, Jue thinks it’s essential to engage with the unpredictable environment of the coast. “So many things are happening at the beach,” she says. “The environment is so beautiful in summer and full of pockets of life.” Students can expect to spend at least half of their class time outdoors, studying theory in the morning and exploring in the afternoon. If they’re especially observant, they may witness sea-turtle eggs hatching or dolphins arcing above the sea.

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