Topics in Visual Communication and Image: Land and Environment


Rebeca Méndez:

Office Hours: Mondays 12:45 to 1:45 _ 

Sign-up here:


Alvaro Azcarraga:

Office Hours: By appointment


Photography is rapidly becoming dominant art form in the 21st century, with international museums and galleries devoting huge exhibitions to the medium. With undeniable and devastating effects our culture continues to have on the natural environment, many artists are turning their attention to creating works around culture of nature. From banal snapshot of one’s backyard, to classical photography of sublime and human awe of nature, consideration of full range of artists’ photographic practice in broad context of nature and landscape. Students conduct research around ecological impacts of anthropogenic climate change, and gain an understanding of contemporary approaches to landscape through an overview of contemporary photographic works.


Grading. Grades will be determined with the following % breakdown:

  • Participation: 10%
  • Process Documentation: 15%
  • Project Proposal: 15%
  • Final Project: 50%
  • Final Project Documentation: 10%

Outstanding or exceptional work will receive As, good work will receive Bs, sufficient work that does nothing more than meet requirements will receive Cs. 


You must attend each class. This class will cover a lot of material in a short period of time. There is little, if any, way to make up for a lost class. You are responsible for work due on the day you are absent and for Projects given on the day you missed. An emergency or illness is the only acceptable excuse. You must let the T.A. and me know, prior to the class meeting, that either you will a) miss the class and the reason; or b) why you did not attend. Class begins promptly at 2:00pm. There is a 5- minute grace period. If you arrive to class between 2:05 and 2:15 you will be marked tardy. Every tardy is a 1/3 grade point down on your final grade (A+ to A). If you are later than 15 minutes you’ll be marked absent. Each (unexcused) absence will result in one full grade letter down (A+ to B+). Three unexcused absences will result in a failed grade in the class (F).

Process documentation. The quarter is broken up into smaller assignments that will guide you on the path of creating your project. It is recommended that you create a dedicated notebook or folder to track the assigments and research materials you compile. It is essential that you meet these deadlines so you don’t fall behind. If you are struggling, talk to the professor or TA ahead of your meeting to communicate the issue or confusion. Process documentation is worth 15% of your grade.

Individual meetings. Much of the class time will be devoted to 1-on-1 meetings with the professor and TA. You should prep for these meetings. Show new findings, discuss conclusions, and present your goals for the following week. Make a list of questions beforehand that you want to discuss. Outside of these meetings, keep in mind that you are also welcome to discuss your work with any professor you feel could help you out. Your project professor might ask you to seek advice or have a meeting with someone specific to discuss your project. Be proactive and report to your professor if this was helpful. You are also welcome to come to class after the last scheduled meeting each day for open office hours help.

Participation. Participation is critical to passing and enjoying this class. Do the work, share your thoughts, ask questions, prepare for meetings, offer feedback during critiques. This class is meant to be a space in which you feel encouraged and supported in learning and taking creative risks. This means being aware and considerate of different backgrounds, perspectives, and identities. Respect each other and this space we are building together. Don’t assume, ask. Remain open, be willing to take responsibility, apologize, and learn. Help each other in this. If there are concerns please let me or Alvaro know as soon as possible.

Late work. Late work will not be accepted.


In this class we make a commitment towards diversity by acknowledging the different identities and backgrounds we inhabit. A collaborative effort between the students and the teacher is needed for creating a supportive learning environment. If a class member says that something you have said or shared with the group is offensive, remember this is a valuable opportunity for everyone present to grow and learn from one another with further discussion. All class members are encouraged to discuss such instances with the instructor so they can be addressed with greater care in the future.


UCLA strives to make all learning experiences as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience academic barriers based on a disability, please let me know as soon as possible. It is necessary for you to register with the UCLA Center for Accessible Education so that we can establish reasonable accommodations. After registration, make arrangements with me to discuss how to implement these accommodations.


Photography is rapidly becoming the dominant art form in the 21st century, with international museums and galleries devoting huge exhibitions to the medium. With the undeniable and devastating effects our culture continues to have on the natural environment, many artists are turning their attention to creating works around the culture of nature. From the banal snapshot of one’s backyard, to classical photography of the sublime and human awe of nature, students will consider the full range of the artists’ photographic practice in the broad context of nature and the landscape.

Participants will gain an understanding of contemporary approaches to the landscape through an overview of contemporary photographic works by such artists such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, Richard Long, Thomas Struth, Sophie Calle, Jeff Wall, and Andreas Gursky, among others. Field Trips to photograph landscapes at dusk or dawn will occur for the purpose of creating a photographic artwork series. Students will edit, process, and print their images.


  • The Photograph as Contemporary Art. By Charlotte Cotton. Thames & Hudson Publishers.
  • On Photography. By Susan Sontag. Picador Publishers.
  • Philosophy of Photography. By Henri Van Lier. Leuven University Press.


Selected reading from the following publications:


  • The American Space: Meaning in Nineteenth-Century Landscape Photography. Edited and with Notes by: Daniel Wolf. Published by Wesleyan University Press
  • The Altered Landscape. Edited by Peter E. Pool, with essays by Patricia Nelson, Limerick, Dave Hickey, and Thomas W. Southall. Published by Nevada Art Museum of Art/University of Nevada Press
  • California: Views by Robert Adams of the Los Angeles Basin, 1978–1983 Essay by Robert Haas. Published by Frankel Gallery, San Francisco/Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
  • Zero Landscape in the Time of Hyperobjects by Timothy Morton. Printed in Graz Architectural Magazine

Birds / Migration / Climate Crisis: 

  • The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers. By Adam Nicolson. Introduction. 
  • On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. By Naomi Klein. Introduction. 


“Bird migration is the world’s only true unifying natural phenomena, stitching the continents together in a way that even the great weather systems fail to do.” 

Living on the Wind – Scott Weidensaul

The Pacific Flyway is a major north-south flyway for migratory birds in the Americas, extending from Alaska to Patagonia. Every year, migratory birds travel some or all of this distance both in spring and fall, following food sources, overnight resting spots, and heading to breeding grounds, or travelling to overwintering sites. Of the more than 650 species of North American breeding birds, more than half are migratory. 

Each year at least a billion birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway, but these birds are only a fraction of those that used the flyway a century ago. Over nearly half a century, bird populations in North America experienced a steep decline. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds today than there were in 1970 — a reduction of 29%. Habitat loss, water shortages, pesticide use, plastic pollution, tall glass buildings, diminishing food sources, and climate change all threaten the birds of the Pacific Flyway. 

These man-made threats are of a magnitude that they are seen as a geological era in itself: the anthropocene. The oldest known bird fossil is 150 million years old, while the oldest fossil remains of homo sapiens date back 300,000 years. Yet we ‘spring-chicken’ humans are spearheading a sixth mass extinction of the ancient species we co-exist on our planet with.

Strangely and fortunately for migrating birds our modern cities offer a welcome alternative to many of our rural environments, which are overtaken by the ruinous monoculture of agro-industrial production.  Many unexpected pockets of Los Angeles offer a much safer refuge for our temporary guests. Over 500 bird species have been counted in LA County, the most in any county of the United States. 

In this fall class you will observe, document, and enter into an interspecies communication to perceive the stories your chosen totem bird has to tell, the lessons it teaches and the wisdom it shares–of fragility, resilience, adaptability and determination– in order to prepare yourself for the inevitable changes that one day soon will also impact your life.


Migration in the Anthropocene Journal

The students create a collective journal of migratory bird species who make a stopover in the Los Angeles area during their Fall migration. Each student selects one bird species to thoroughly study and designs one chapter of the collective Journal. Each chapter is comprised of selected research, data visualization, photographic essays, drawings, poems, etc… All chapters are printed and sewn to form the Migration in the Anthropocene Journal.  


Pacific Flyway Migratory Bird Species + Ecology Research.

Select one migratory bird species (in its Fall migration) to investigate throughout the quarter. Thoroughly research your selected bird species and its ecology based on the criteria outlined below. Go to the site and spend time observing the bird and habitat. Prepare a 10 minute presentation of your research with visuals (your own and available)—photographs, maps, charts, graphs, drawings, poems, etc… 

Bird Species:  

Please make sure your bird species is migratory and is visible in the LA area and vicinity, and that you include the appropriate sources to back that claim. 

We wanted to make sure everyone was writing down the correct specific bird taxonomy, this includes both the genus and the species. For example for an Emperor Penguin the scientific name is Aptenodytes forsteri, “Aptenodytes” is the genus and “forsteri” is the species. 

After you have a specific species a good guideline of things to cover from a scientific standpoint comes from the Cornell Labs bird resource. Sadly there is a $5 monthly subscription charge for the full article breakdown, but you can also use the list of resources I sent in the last email. Also using Wikipedia as a starting point for your research might be useful. Please make sure to include all your sources in your presentations. 


Research and include in your presentation the following: 


Distribution, Migration, and Habitat

Diet and Foraging

Sounds and Vocal Behavior



Demography and Populations

Conservation and Management

Priorities for Future Research



(Adapted from Cornell Lab or Ornithology) 


The bird’s relations to one another and to their physical surroundings. 


The bird’s habitat is the place or environment where it naturally or normally lives and grows. During migration, the habitat is the location(s) that bird uses as a ‘stop over’ on its way to its Winter destination. The bird species you select will determine the habitat you’ll research. Consider that the selected habitat is a place you’ll need to visit frequently, weekly or at minimum biweekly. If you select a habitat outside of the Los Angeles Area, such as the Salton Sea or Mono Lake you will need to visit the site at least two times during the quarter, and produce two or more photoshoots per visit. 


Week 1

9/30 Syllabus / Project Introduction / Discussion

10/2 Research Presentation 1

10/6 10:00 am – 11:30 am Field Trip _ Ballona Wetlands

Week 2

10/7 Research Presentation 2 / 

Professor Travis Longcore lecture: All about birds!

10/9 RM presentation _ Landscape Photography

Homework: Content Development: a) Habitat Photography: Dawn to Dusk

Week 3

10/14 Final Research Presentation 2

  1. Habitat Photography Presentation: Dawn to Dusk

Homework: Content Development: b) Bird Photography and c) Field Drawings and Notes

10/16 Initial presentation: b) Bird Photography and c) Field Drawings and Notes

Homework: b) Bird Photography and c) Field Drawings and Notes

10/18 Fieldtrip: Sunrise visit to UCLA Botanical Gardens / Sing-up w Alvaro

Week 4

10/21 b) Bird Photography and c) Field Drawings and Notes presentation

Homework: d) Data Visualization and Mapping Research and Design

10/23 RM Lecture DesignThinkers in Toronto / Alvaro leads the class / Special Collections Field Trip

Data Visualization Research and Design Presentation

During class visit to: LSC-Biomed Library / Rare Book Room

10/23 7:30 pm Naomi Klein & Special Guest: Hammer Museum (required).

Homework: Prepare for Midterm Presentation: a, b, c and d. 

Week 5

10/28 Midterm Presentation:

a) Habitat Photography and b) Bird Photography. 

10/30 Midterm Presentation: 

c) Field Drawings and Notes and d) Data Visualization and Mapping Design

Homework: Content Development: e) Story/Copy:  Introduction, sections, research findings, photo captions, etc…

Week 6

11/4 RM presentation: CircumSolar, Migration / Journal Design

e) Story/Copy Presentation 

During class visit to: UCLA-Dickey Bird and Mammal Collection

Homework: Journal Initial Design 

11/6 RM Presentation: Image Processing

Risography Workshop

Homework: f) Journal Design Refinement  

Week 7

11/11 Veteran’s Day _ Holiday

11/13 f) Journal Design Presentation

Homework: Journal Design Refinement / Final Photoshoots / Printing Tests / Paper Selection 

Week 8

11/18 Individual Meetings: Present your Journal Design / Final Photoshoots Images / Printing Tests

Homework: Journal Design Refinement / Final Image Processing

Professor Charles Hood Presentation

11/20 Individual Meetings: Progress presentation

Homework: Complete Journal Design at ½ scale. 

Week 9

11/25 Presentation: Complete Journal Design at ½ Scale. Printing during class. 

Bookbinding Workshop I

Homework: Final Journal Production. 

11/27 Individual meetings: Refinement of complete  Journal Design. Printing during class. 

RM out of town

Week 10

12/2 Delivery of all signatures x10

Individual Meetings

Bookbinding Workshop II

12/4 Final Presentation


Recommended Locations: 

Ballona Wetlands

Bolsa Chica

Malibu Lagoon

Salton Sea

Mono Lake

Other Locations:



eBird Status and Trends Tools

eBirds Target Species for Los Angeles

eBirds Bar Charts

Birds of Westwood

Loye Holmes Miller, UCLA Ornithology professor (1904!), Bird observation cards:

Here is Loye Miller’s Birds of Campus pamphlet:

Bird Conservation Regions Map

Migration in the Anthropocene: how collective navigation, environmental system and taxonomy shape the vulnerability of migratory species

Endangered Malibu Lagoon:

Audubon Pacific Flyway

Audubon’s priority bird species are birds of significant conservation need.

BLM’s Final Environmental Review for Arctic Refuge Drilling Glaringly Underestimates Harm to Wildlife.

Poetry / Birds. Traci Brimhall: Rookery, 2010. ‘Birders’ Documentary.

Audubon—Spectrograms of Bird Song (Human Migration Data Visualization)

Stanford—History of Data Visualization (Lecture)

David Rumsey Map Collection

Salton Sea Birds:

Ballona Birds Checklist in iNaturalist

StoneBird Nature Photography:

Bird Journaling and sketching: 

Here is a link to Prof. Mendez recent selects exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt Museum:

Is someone wants to get serious about breeding birds, you can order the atlas here:

Anthropocene Climate change affects birds / habitat: 

Huge decline in songbirds linked to common insecticide

Climate Change and Activism: 


Naomi Klein:

The Right to a Future with Naomi Klein and Greta Thunberg. The Intercept / 

Youth speakers: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Xiye Bastida, and Vic Barrett. Tuntiak Katan, Greta Thunberg. #ourclimatefuture

Inside Politics Pod Cast: 

Listen to Naomi Klein on The Need for Radical Climate Action from Irish Times Inside Politics on Apple Podcasts.

A message from the future with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez by The Intercept and Naomi Klein.

Illustrations by Molly Crabapple

Covering Climate Now:

Covering Climate Now

is a global journalism initiative committed to bringing more and better coverage to the defining story of our time.

Extinction Rebellion

Greta Thunberg: 

Greta Thunberg Speech: How Dare You!