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Kaja Silverman held the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania from 2010-2020. Shortly after arriving at Penn, Silverman was given a Distinguished Achievement Award by the Mellon Foundation, which provided the motivation and the funding for a wide range of events: academic lectures, public conversations with artists and curators, artist residencies, three conferences, and three exhibitions, one of which included the creation of a public artwork.

Silverman is the author of nine books: The Miracle of Analogy, or The History of Photography, Part 1 (2015); Flesh of My Flesh (2009); James Coleman (2002); World Spectators (2000); Speaking About Godard (with Harun Farocki, 1998); The Threshold of the Visible World (1996); Male Subjectivity at the Margins (1992); The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (1988); and The Subject of Semiotics (1983).

Her most recent book, The Miracle of Analogy, which was published by Stanford University Press in 2015, is the first installment in a three-volume reconceptualization of photography. Since this book is primarily concerned with photography as the agency through which the world reveals itself to us, it focuses on images in whose formation the photographer played only a nominal role: on the pre-optical camera obscura's image-stream, and photographs made during the first three decades of chemical photography. And although Silverman discusses works by a number of contemporary photographers, they are all close in spirit to the photographs of the nineteenth century photographers who figure most prominently in Miracle: William Henry Fox Talbot, Anna Atkins, and Julia Margaret Cameron.

The second volume, The Three-Personed Picture, is about the gradual emergence of a very different kind of image: one that is two-sided, three personnel and authored from inside. It is shaped both by the subjective intelligence of the sitter and the beholder as well as the author, and by the objective intelligence of the world. Through it, the saving power of photography finally became not just ontological, but socio-ontological. The final volume in this trilogy, The Promise of Social Happiness, is focused on the re-emergence of pictorial photography in the second half of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first, through two closely-related forms: photo-painting, and large-format photography.

Before joining the History of Art Department at Penn, Silverman taught for many years at the University of California, Berkeley. During this period she wrote Speaking About Godard–itself a book about couples–with Harun Farocki, her life partner from 1992-1999. They also collaborated in many other ways during their years together, including co-teaching four seminars at Berkeley.

Earlier in her career, she taught at the University of Rochester, Brown University, Simon Fraser University, Trinity College, and Yale University.

Courses Taught

ARTH 287:  Contemporary Art

ARTH 294:  Art  Now

ARTH 794:  Pictorial Photography

ARTH 794:  Photo-Painting

ARTH 300:  Methods of Art History

ARTH 305:  Spiegel-Wilks Seminar in Contemporary Art: Essays in Images and Words

ARTH 787:  Installations, Projections, Divagations

ARTH 787:  The Pencil of Nature