Image, text


Image, text: an undergraduate workshop at UMass Amherst


Erica Baum, Differently, 2009

Course description

Ours is a world of image and text: we encounter the pair everywhere, on the internet, on the street, in our communications. As critical readers of our environment, we know that when text appears with an image, it changes the meaning of that image. The dynamic is true in the opposite direction: images change the meaning of text.

This dynamic has always been of interest to artists and writers, but recently more and more literary writers have taken up the dialectic and used images to explore meaning in literary prose and poetry.

This mixed-genre workshop will ask, how does the dynamic between image and text function in literature? How do images make—or complicate, amplify, distort, etc.—the meaning of a piece of writing? And how does text shape the meaning of an image?

As a community, we will explore these questions through creative writing and reading of image-text works—fiction and nonfiction prose, poetry, and all manner of hybrid. We will survey a host of contemporary image-text practitioners (plus some older examples), with a particular focus on literary writers using photographs, paintings, drawings, and other forms of visual representation in their work.

The wager of this class: the relationship between image and text is unstable, and this instability provides a site of intervention for any writer or image-maker.

This workshop is designed for writers and artists with an interest in making and thinking about image-text work.

This class aims to be equally useful to workshop veterans, first-timers, and all in between. It is a great creative writing course for both writers and visual artists. Together we will build an inclusive, supportive critical environment meant to facilitate your work as an artist.

Talks and course materials

The Treachery of Images

On captions and Wayne Koestenbaum’s Notes on Glaze

The archive lies / down in the drawer

Historicity in the novels of W.G. Sebald; Lucy Ives’ The Poetics

Photograph as evidence, evidence as narrative

Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne

Working with the newspaper and television

Alexandra Bell’s Counternarratives, the collaboration of Alexander Kluge & Gerhard Richter, and Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric

Writing with paintings, painting with writing

Carole Maso’s The Art Lover and the paintings of On Kawara and Peter Dreher

Might there be such a thing as a literary photograph?

On the work of Moyra Davey, with a screening of Davey’s Notes on Blue

Shooting from the hip

Bernadette Mayer’s Memory and works of documentary snapshot

Working with the phone

Sheila Heti’s Motherhood; practicum with the camera & notes app

Writing the internet

Catherine Taylor’s “Saetas” and Patricia Lockwood’s “The Communal Mind”


Chris Marker’s La Jetée and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee

Text as image; image as text

On the work of Susan Howe and Erica Baum

* * *