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October 12, 2009

In Memoriam: Anne Friedberg

Internationally Renowned Visual Studies Scholar

By Mel Cowan

Anne Friedberg, historian, theorist of modern media culture and School of Cinematic Arts professor, whose work pioneered the field of visual studies, passed away Friday, October 9, following a long struggle with colorectal cancer. She was 57.

Friedberg’s work integrated film studies, art history, architecture, and media studies, into what is now a wider and richer discussion about visual culture.

Said the president of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, University of Milwaukee Professor Patrice Petro, "Anne Friedberg shaped the course of our discipline over nearly four decades."

Professor Friedberg during SCA's 2008 Commencement Ceremony.
At the time of her death, Friedberg was Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, with joint appointments in English and Art History. Having joined the SCA family in 2003, she was appointed chair of the Critical Studies program in 2006. She was a principal architect of the new interdivisional Ph.D. program for iMAP (Media Arts & Practice) and was on the Steering Committee of the Visual Studies Graduate Certificate Program.

"Anne was one of those rare individuals who with her remarkable intellect could integrate past, present and future," said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley. "She was always challenging her colleagues and students to move forward and embrace change and innovation with courage and integrity. Both her colleagues and her students were inspired by her intellectual curiosity and her rigorous scholarship."

"It is hard to comprehend the depth of her loss both to USC and the field at large," Daley continued. "There will be many days when we turn to one another and ask ‘what would Anne say?’ The silence will be hard to bear but we struggle to answer the question and keep her insights alive here in the school."

Friedberg is perhaps best known for her 1993 work Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, published by University of California Press, and, more recently, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, published by MIT Press. Friedberg launched an interactive translation/extension of the book, The Virtual Window Interactive, created in collaboration with designer Erik Loyer. She was also the co-editor of an anthology of critical and theoretical writing about film, Close Up 1927-1933: Cinema and Modernism. Named as a 2008 Academy Film Scholar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, her next planned project was a work of digital scholarship on special effects cinematographer, montage expert and former dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Slavko Vorkapich.

Friedberg consistently worked to expand narrow disciplinary boundaries, an effort carried on by a legion of former graduate students. Sheila Murphy, now assistant professor in the Department of Screen Arts & Cultures at the University of Michigan, said, "She was an generous and dedicated mentor. Her work inspired a new generation of interdisciplinary, theoretically-inflected film and media scholars."

"Anne helped select and mentor two cohorts of iMAP students, but more importantly, she served as the program’s intellectual center of gravity, challenging students and faculty alike to pursue the highest levels of scholarly rigor, even as we seek new modes of creative expression," said Assistant Professor Steve Anderson, who worked closely with Friedberg in creating the iMAP program and collaborated with her on The Virtual Window Interactive project. "We have missed her guidance for the past year and will continue to feel her absence profoundly and in ways that are impossible to articulate in the years ahead."

USC professor Vanessa Schwartz, who specializes in modern visual culture, spoke about her shared interests with Friedberg. "By working at the edges of both theory and history, she masterfully wove together media histories around such major rubrics as the mobile spectator, the frame and materiality to establish conceptual categories that transcended the study of any individual media form such as film."

Friedberg was President-Elect of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) prior to her illness last October. "Anne was the passionate advocate for putting ‘media’ into the Society’s mission and thus for transforming SCS into SCMS (the Society for Cinema and Media Studies)—a move that helped cinema studies expand and thrive in the first decade of the 21st century," said Petro.

Her work reached beyond the borders of academia to influence a wide range of artists and practitioners.

Magician and writer Ricky Jay said, "Anne Friedberg combined the work of an inter-disciplinary scholar with the eye of an artist. Not only did see she with originality and insight, but almost more importantly, compelled us to see our own material in fresh and unconventional ways."

"Anne Friedberg's work, in its ambitious scope, its generous rigor, and its startling prescience, has been invaluable in helping us understand how interactivity and the technologies of vision have transformed the everyday," said artist Barbara Kruger. "She has keenly eyed the lenses, windows, and screens that visualize and spatialize both our culture and us and she has done so with a depth of intelligence, wit and resonant clarity."

Friedberg lectured widely in this country and abroad and her work was translated into German, French, Finnish, Polish, Hungarian, and Japanese. In addition to her work as a Visiting Scholar at the Getty Research Institute, Friedberg was a fellow at USC’s Annenberg Center’s "Networked Publics" research group. She also established the doctoral program in Visual Studies at the University of California at Irvine.

She received her Ph.D. in film studies from NYU and did her undergraduate work at Beloit College.

Friedberg's research and teaching covered a wide range, including film and media histories and theories, old media/new media historiographies, critical theory/ feminist theory, nineteenth century visual culture and early cinema, theories of vision and visuality, architecture and film, global media culture.

She is survived by her husband, screenwriter and USC School of Cinematic Arts professor Howard A. Rodman, and their son, Tristan Rodman, a student at the Oakwood School.