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Affective Landscape

Photography & Cinema of the American West: Carolin Görgen, Heike Paul & Jordan Reznick in Conversation. Moderiert von Erin Cooney.

Los Angeles

Die Thomas Mann Fellows und American Studies Scholars Carolin Görgen und Heike Paul sprechen mit Fotograf:in Jordan Reznick über Geschichte und Gegenwart der visuellen Kulturen, die mit dem amerikanischen Westen verbunden sind. Das Gespräch wird von der in L.A. lebenden bildenden Künstlerin und Pädagogin Erin Cooney moderiert.

*This event will be held in English*

For a long time, Californian landscape photography and U.S. environmentalism have been inextricably related in the public imagination. The monumental vistas of Carleton Watkins, Ansel Adams, and many others have suggested that aesthetically-pleasing prints would fuel environmental awareness. Yet, California’s long history of mineral extraction, railroad enterprise, and violent displacement of Indigenous populations — and their connection to the photographic medium — complicates these wishful representations. Did popular photography, such as the practices of the California Camera Club, leave an ecological imprint on the land that is tangible to this day? 2023 Thomas Mann Fellow Carolin Görgen explores these and other questions around the political ecologies of the Western camera. Interesting overlaps and synergies arise in connection with the work of the American Studies scholar Heike Paul, who was a 2022 Fellow at the Thomas Mann House. Paul, whose research deals intensively with film, offers fascinating insights into ideas of Western frontiers and myth-building: The American West has long been the site of Western films and melodramas: Melodramas of introspection, of encounter, conflict and triumph, unfold against a grandiose landscape reinforcing notions of good and evil and, above all, “Americanness.” Traditional cinematic melodramas of tormented manhood have recently given way to more complex and nuanced forms of identity politics in films such as Power of the Dog (2021) and television series such as Godless (2017). Do these revisionist new types of 'anti-Westerns' change how we politically and aesthetically perceive the American West as an affective landscape? Jordan Reznick, a photographer and art historian who focuses on the interrelations between photography, race, transgender studies, and settler colonialism, will join the conversation. In their work, Reznick’s trans feminist lens replaces the objective facticity of the photograph with the truth of affect and the honesty of the relationship between subject, photographer, and viewer. Reznick’s series of landscape photography, Seeing Settler Seeing (in progress), reinterprets survey photographs of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, in which water stolen from the Indigenous Owens Valley Paiute land flows to Los Angeles.

Against the backdrop of the Thomas Mann House annual topic on the relationship between arts and politics, the three speakers will engage in a conversation about past and present implications of visual cultures of the American West, drawing on their various disciplinary backgrounds. The conversation will be moderated by Erin Cooney.


Carolin Görgen is Associate Professor of American Studies at Sorbonne Université, Paris. After studying American Studies and Art History in the Netherlands, the US, and France, she obtained her PhD from the University Paris-Diderot and the Ecole du Louvre in 2018. Her research focuses on the photographic history of California and the American West. Her work has received support from the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Beinecke Library at Yale, the Huntington Library, and the Amon Carter Museum. She serves on the editorial board of the journal Photographica. Among many other publications, Görgen is the author of the 2021 article “Californian Women Photographers in the U.S. Archival Landscape: Toward a More Inclusive History of American Photography.” She is a 2023 Thomas Mann Fellow.


Heike Paul is Professor of American Studies, with a focus on North American literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Her research interests in the field of a culturally hermeneutically oriented American Studies deal, among other things, with cultural patterns of community formation in the United States. In 2018, she was awarded the Leibniz Prize. Paul is a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities and director of the Bavarian American Academy, in which she is deeply committed to transatlantic networking. Her publications include American Civil Sentimentalism (2021), The Myths That Made America (2014), and, most recently, the Lexicon of Global Melodrama (2022).


Jordan Reznick is GRI/NEH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Getty Research Institute and will join Grinnell College as Assistant Professor of American Studies in the fall. Their current research project describes how Indigenous ecological science shaped nineteenth-century landscape photographs in California. Reznick’s publications include “Through the Guillotine Mirror: Claude Cahun’s Photographic Theory of Trans against the Void” in Art Journal (2022) and “Indigenous Space: Hodinöhsö:ni’ Sky World and the Territories of American Art” forthcoming in American Art (2023).


Erin Cooney is a visual artist and educator based in Los Angeles. Her video, installation, and performance work investigates point of view and its role in determining the kind of worlds we experience and build. Erin is a Lecturer in UCLA’s Design Media Arts Department and is an Affiliated Faculty to UCLA’s Counterforce Lab, which uses art and design to engage with ecological crisis and its ties to environmental injustice. Erin received a BA in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, studied Graphic Design at Art Center College of Design, and received an MFA from UCLA in Design Media Arts.
Attendance Information:
By invitation only.

Thomas Mann House
1550 N San Remo Dr
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

In Collaboration with the Getty Research Institute.

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