Documentary Strategies, Part I: "Bearing Witness in a time of Global Crisis

Bouchra Khalili
Arts and Society, Artistic Strategies
2021S, scientific seminar (SEW), 4.0 ECTS, 2.0 semester hours, course number S03756


Documentary Strategies - Part 1: Bearing witness in a time of Global Crisis

« Documentary strategies » is a yearly seminar focusing on documentary practices approached as a strategic space to reflect on new collective forms of social imagination.

For the first iteration, the seminar investigates the FSA Program (Farm Security Administration: 1935-1943).

The FSA was implemented by the F.D Roosevelt’s administration as part of the New Deal policies and vision during the Great Depression. Aiming at renewing welfare state, social security, and community organizing at the time of a major crisis, the FSA’s primary mission was to offer relief packages to support rural communities and migrant farmers struggling with financial emergencies and massive loss of income and land.

But it quickly included a cultural aspect, involving many among the most talented North American photographers of their time, commissioned to document the social impact of the Great Depression.

FSA photographers produced nearly eighty thousand pictures, providing with the most extensive documentation of the people’s everyday life during the Great Depression era in the United States, as well as producing one of the most powerful imagery of the 20th century, deeply influencing the history of photography and lens-based media.

At the moment when the Covid-19 crisis is radically reshaping world economy and cultural, social, and political dynamics across the globe, looking in retrospect at the FSA program allows us to reflect on the power of art at offering new perspectives for new collective civic imagination.

The seminar proposes to investigate the cultural landscape that contributed to shape the FSA program – the FAP program (the Federal Art Project: 1935-1943) – the social turn of Hollywood film production, new American literature (John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright).

The seminar will  examine the work and legacy of photographers Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, among others, and the complex dynamics at stake within their production, between promoting New Deal policies and developing innovative aesthetics at the intersection of objectivity, social survey, and epics.

Eventually, the seminar will invite the students to reflect on documentary practices as forms of bearing to witness to history and to potential future.

Examination Modalities

Attendance : 80%

Active Participation 


The numbers of participants is limited to 20 students.


08 March 2021, 14:00–17:00 Distance Learning (details as described)
15 March 2021, 14:00–17:00 Distance Learning (details as described)
12 April 2021, 14:00–17:00
26 April 2021, 14:00–17:00
10 May 2021, 14:00–17:00
31 May 2021, 14:00–17:00
07 June 2021, 14:00–17:00

Course Enrolment

From 15 February 2021, 23:59 to 07 March 2021, 23:59
Via online registration

co-registration: possible

Cross-Disciplinary Strategies (Bachelor): Artistic Strategies: Deepening and Application

Individual courses: possible