Lens Culture: The Impact of Photography on Modern Life

Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

Without photography, today’s world would be unrecognizable. From public museums to personal memories, from medicine to the movies, from newsrooms to NASA, photographic imaging has, over the past two centuries, become indispensable to understanding ourselves and our universe. Like jazz and the computer, photography (including cinema) became, over the past century, a universal language. From the commonplace to the commercial, from the artists to the scientists, photography flowed seamlessly into world culture long before the word “globalization” came into use.


Sandra Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography, SF Museum of Modern Art, introduces the day’s program.

Lecture  Ahead of Their Time: Thirty-Eight Photographers of Genius at the Getty 1839-1969
Weston Naef, Curator of Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, will discuss photography as an art since its invention in 1838: a cavalcade of genius from the photographic innovators of the earliest days to those of our own era.

Lecture  Our Universe Will Never Again Be the Same
Dr. John Grunsfeld, NASA scientist and astronaut who repaired the Hubble in space will discuss how photography has transformed our understanding of the space/time continuum and the unbelievable results of the Hubble Telescope still coming in.

Demonstration  Mammoth!
Tracy Storer, operator of one of the few 20” x 24” Polaroid cameras in the world, will photograph two members of the audience, drawn by lot. The special role large scale photography has played, from Egypt in the 1850s, to digital scanning, to the self portraits of Chuck Close, will be discussed.

Lecture  Entertaining the World
Dr. Elizabeth Daley, Dean, USC School of Cinema-Television, University of Southern California, explores the idea that the soul of every civilization is laid bare by the stories it tells in the context of today’s universal language – and preeminent storytelling medium – film.

Lecture  Re-presenting Reality
Drawing on his 45 years as a photographer and author, William Carter suggests that photographs project what is inside ourselves; he will show how all our photos are shaped by private memory, public history, and pervasive values.

Panel Discussion
Audience questions will be addressed by the distinguished panel.