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Re-Views: Field Editors’ Reflections
On the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of caa.reviews, it is my great pleasure to introduce a new series of review essays authored by members of the journal’s Council of Field Editors under the rubric “Re-Views: Field Editors’ Reflections.” For some time, members of the caa.reviews editorial board have expressed their desire to increase the number of essays we publish. At the CAA Publications Committee session I organized and chaired at the annual conference in February of this year titled “Book Reviews and Beyond: caa.reviews at 15,” the panel (consisting of past editors of the journal and former editorial board members) considered the scope and object of the reviewing enterprise—not only of books and exhibitions, but also in a more comprehensive sense. The participants and audience members agreed that expanding our efforts to publish thematic essays would be one way to broaden the journal’s mission and appeal. Following discussion at our spring editorial board meeting, it was decided to inaugurate a series of essays that will provide a locus for our field editors to reflect upon their respective fields as seen through the lens of the reviews they have commissioned. We envision publishing one or two of these essays each year. Our first essay in the series, titled “Reflections on Photography,” is by field editor for photography and editorial board member Tanya Sheehan (Department of Art, Colby College). In this essay Professor Sheehan assesses the topics, methodologies, and debates current in publications about photography over the past several years. Themes she addresses include the global reach and significance of photography, political considerations, the play between “art” and “vernacular” in photography studies, and future directions for the field. It is our hope that this inaugural essay will set the stage for the journal’s series that will see anew—or re-view—many of the fields covered in caa.reviews.
Sheryl Reiss, Editor-in-Chief, caa.reviews
REFLECTIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY
If there is one thing I have learned since taking the reins as field editor for photography in July 2009, it is that the state of the field is remarkably strong. Over the last four years the College Art Association has received from publishers approximately 250 books that it tagged with the subject “photography,” out of which over 80 were selected for review in this journal. But much more than sheer numbers are of note. The books discussed in caa.reviews have addressed a tremendous range of subjects under the umbrella of “photography,” from historical vernacular to contemporary art. These subjects have been sampled from around the world, producing a broader view of photographic history, geographically and culturally speaking, than the journal’s readership had previously seen. Together the authors and reviewers that contributed content to caa.reviews constitute an international and multidisciplinary collection of scholars, underscoring the vibrancy of writing on photography within and beyond U.S.-based art history. In this review essay—the first in a series of critical reflections penned by the field editors of caa.reviews—I explore these and other observations about current scholarship on photography that have emerged from the journal’s recent coverage of the field. My aims in thinking across the content in caa.reviews are to comment on the state of this field and to consider the role the journal can play within it.
Let me begin by commenting on the perspective through which I have been thinking about photography and caa.reviews since 2009. It is important to note, for instance, an obvious limitation that I encounter as a field editor. Because of the language and location of the journal’s publication, the books it receives and solicits for review are (with few exceptions) English-language texts; their authors and publishers hail primarily from the United States and secondarily from the United Kingdom. That this omits a significant number of books and voices across the globe, and problematically so, should be immediately apparent. One way in which we have been successful in dealing with this issue and broadening the geographical reach of the journal’s photography coverage is in the selection of reviewers. The photography category alone has recently attracted reviewers based in Canada, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand.
Another limitation I have addressed as a field editor concerns the readership of caa.reviews, which for much of its history was restricted to subscribing institutions and members of the College Art Association. While acknowledging that the journal’s readership base consists chiefly of art historians, artists, and art museum professionals, the reviews I have commissioned since 2009 have sought to incorporate and reach beyond the art world. Motivating this choice are vociferous challenges to histories and institutions whose emphasis on aesthetic quality have written out the personal, social, and cultural lives of most photographs. Once associated with debates within postmodernist Anglo-American art criticism of the 1970s and 1980s, today those challenges proliferate outside of art history—in anthropology, history, literary criticism, journalism, area studies, cultural studies in its many forms, and elsewhere. Many of the reviews published here thus represent cross-disciplinary perspectives that characterize much contemporary writing on photography. While Marta Zarzycka of the Department of Gender Studies at Utrecht University reflected on the work of Susie Linfield of the Department of Cultural Reporting and Criticism at New York University (click here for review), for example, James Ryan, a cultural geographer based at the University of Exeter, reviewed a book by T. Jack Thompson, a historian affiliated with the Centre for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh (click here for review).
A Global View
One of the most exciting developments highlighted in caa.reviews is the new abundance of histories that examine photographic practices outside of the United States, Britain, and France—three countries that have laid vigorous claim to the development of photography since the public announcement of its invention in 1839. Kirsten McAllister shows that Carol Payne and Andrea Kunard’s The Cultural Work of Photography in Canada fills a historiographical gap when it comes to photography in North America (click here for review). That there have been few books dedicated specifically to Canadian photographic practices is surprising, given the large number of historians and curators of photography working in Canadian institutions and the vast quantity of research materials related to photography that are held by Canadian archives. Then again, the volume edited by Payne and Kunard is a reminder of how strongly the United States has dominated narratives of photography’s development on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps more surprising is the dearth of publications on what Sarah Hill has described as Italy’s “intense and often complex relationship with photography.” In her review of Photography and Italy by Maria Antonella Pelizzari and La fotografia in Italia 1945–1975 by Paolo Morello, Hill points to the “hundreds of photography exhibition catalogues and coffee table books” that Italy produces every year, but “relatively few studies of the medium that specifically focus on its Italian history” (click here for review). Regrettably, many of the “classic works” on the subject are either out of print or were never translated from Italian into English, making them inaccessible to many readers of caa.reviews.
U.S. and British presses have been especially keen of late to publish academic studies of photography in Mexico and Latin America. As many as six reviews in the journal have pointed to the significant expansion of “American” photographic history to include material south of the U.S. border; they have done so through books by Horacio Fernández (click here for review), Leonard Folgarait (click here for review), Esther Gabara (click here for review), John Mraz (click here for review), Andrea Noble (click here for review), Anna Pegler-Gordon (click here for review), and Roberto Tejada (click here for review). As in the new surveys of Canadian and Italian photography, many of these books present readers with a wealth of images that document a nation’s history—both iconic images by celebrated local “masters” like Manuel Álvarez Bravo and images unseen by most viewers even within their country of origin. But these publications have done much more by exploring what it means to construct a national history of photography, specifically in Latin America. As George Flaherty observes in his review of Tejada’s National Camera: Photography and Mexico’s Image Environment and Gabara’s Errant Modernism: The Ethos of Photography in Mexico and Brazil, some of the most innovative work on Mexican photography “has begun to open up [its] national(ist) histories . . . to transnational affinities and/or comparison across media.” While Gabara adopts a “comparative frame” to discuss photography in Brazil and Mexico, Tejada “organizes his project around the . . . plural, overlapping, and contingent visual and spatial exchanges between Mexico and the United States over the course of the twentieth century.” Similarly, Pegler-Gordon’s In Sight of America: Photography and the Development of U.S. Immigration Policy, which explores the intersection of American immigration and photography across the twentieth century, includes two chapters that situate these practices along the U.S.-Mexico border. Reviewer Andres Mario Zervigon further questions the parameters of national histories through his reflections on Fernández’s The Latin American Photobook. Comparing Fernández’s study to other recent surveys of the photobook, Zervigon suggests that “art historians’ traditional concentration on Western media and the individual print” has been insufficient when it comes to genres like the photobook that are “utterly mobile and internationally sought.” Traditional approaches have thus obscured the global development of photography.
Understanding photography in global terms is precisely what scholars have set out to do in the newest histories of the medium beyond the West—in China, India, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, and Egypt. As reviewers have frequently noted, this is no easy task. In her analysis of recent books on Chinese photography, among them the first English-language survey histories of the subject, Yi Gu observes the “difficulties” authors experience in defining the relationship between “photography” and “China” (click here for review). That all of the authors she considers avoid using the phrase “Chinese photography” in their book titles “indicates an awareness of the limitations of a national framework for understanding photographic history.” It further reveals, according to Gu, “a challenge to acknowledge simultaneously the global nature of the production and consumption of photography, and the local agency of the practice and practitioner.” Karen Strassler, an anthropologist by training, meets this challenge head on in Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java, which attends to photography’s local articulation in Java, its regional history in Indonesia, and its work (as reviewer Iftikhar Dadi put it) as “a force of global modernity” (click here for review).
Allison Moore points to another set of problems facing studies of photography outside the West in her review of two contributions to the “Exposures” series published by Reaktion Books: Maria Golia’s Photography and Egypt and Erin Haney’s Photography and Africa (click here for review). Haney had an especially tough task: incorporating, as Moore notes, “all of Africa’s fifty-four plus nations (including Egypt) into one rather slim volume” that could serve as an introductory textbook. This, Reaktion assumes, is what most students and faculty are looking for in the United Kingdom and the United States, where the “Exposures” series is published. And they are probably right, given how little historians of photography (novice or seasoned) know about the medium’s development on the African continent, and how little space is afforded to African (or any other non-Western) material in undergraduate surveys of art and visual culture. But Moore points to a significant drawback associated with that approach: “contributing to the widespread view of Africa as a unified, undifferentiated land unworthy of regional or national histories.” Here there is a risk of transforming the “narrowness” that Dadi attributed to art history in his review of Refracted Visions—a Western bias that has led “studies of global visual practices [to be] largely produced outside the discipline”—into another form. As a field editor, I remain optimistic about the state of histories of photography beyond the West, having commissioned reviews of new books on African photography that incorporate art-historical and cross-disciplinary methods, local and global perspectives, and a multinational collection of voices. What these studies promise is not only the presentation of new research on global photographies to Western audiences, but also more critical reflection on the political work of writing histories of photography as a global practice.
Looking outside of the West is just one way in which scholars are articulating their thoughts about photography’s relation to politics. In fact, a survey of caa.reviews demonstrates that the last four years have seen an explosion of publications on the character of that relationship. These include illustration-rich and deeply researched studies of photography’s role in government propaganda, military conflicts, labor and civil rights movements, and other social uprisings. Explorations of images in the context of war and political violence are especially well represented in the journal. Here I would point readers to reviews of the following: an edited volume, Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis (click here for review); a major exhibition and catalogue titled War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (click here for review); studies by Georges Didi-Huberman (click here for review) and Frances Guerin (click here for review) on visual documents of the Nazi genocide of the Jews; Jasmine Alinder’s book on the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II (click here for review); two treatises by Ariella Azoulay that theorize photography through the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (click here for review) (click here for review); and books by Linfield and Sharon Sliwinski (click here for review) on photojournalism and modern conceptions of human rights. Lisa Saltzman’s review of Picturing Atrocity rightly acknowledges that “there has been no shortage of critical, theoretical, and scholarly writing devoted to the picturing of atrocity, to the ethical implications of creating and consuming images of events and experiences that may be said simultaneously to defy yet demand representation,” due in part to the influence of Susan Sontag’s treatment of the subject between the late 1970s and her death in 2004. And yet we are seeing something different in the current writing on human trauma and suffering.
First, as Saltzman argues, is the fact that such writing is being produced at a swift rate by an eclectic collection of writers, from practicing photographers and political activists to historians of art and literature. Second, these authors are now adopting broader historical, geographical, and conceptual frameworks. The essays in Picturing Atrocity, for example, address a wide range of places, events, and modes of representation, beginning with non-fiction writer Rebecca Solnit’s reflections on images taken after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and concluding with Lorie Novak’s artistic reinterpretation of atrocity images printed on the front pages of the New York Times since NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999. It must be noted, however, that while the subjects of Picturing Atrocity are diverse in terms of the historical and political contexts they represent, they are also generally limited to those that have garnered the attention of Western media. Another form of broadening is noted in the review of Alinder’s Moving Images: Photography and the Japanese American Incarceration, in which Linda Gordon observes that photographs of the Japanese American internment “need to be recognized as war photography just as much as images of bombings and shootings.” Similarly, Guerin studies the “banal” images that populate photographic archives of the Holocaust as another form of “atrocity” photographs. Third, there is a newfound sense of urgency, especially in the post-9/11 United States, to contemplate a photograph’s ability to represent and participate in political conflict. This often involves yoking the past to the present, explicitly or otherwise. Thus it is possible to understand the recent surge in photographic histories of the African American Civil Rights Movement (Erina Duganne [click here for review], Martin Berger [click here for review], Maurice Berger [click here for review]) and of ethnic minorities in the United States (Alinder, Pegler-Gordon, Thy Phu [click here for review]) as speaking to ongoing questions about racial difference, citizenship, personal freedom, and national (in)security—questions that were brought into crisis for Americans by the snapshots at the center of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Finally, a fourth feature of contemporary scholarship would be a stronger focus on the role of the spectator in images of torture, genocide, lynching, and other violations of human rights. In that focus Sliwinksi, Linfield, and many others have been influenced by the work of Azoulay, whose The Civil Contract of Photography and Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography treats photography as a set of political relations that link the photographer, the photographed, and the spectator. In Azoulay’s view, their joining in a “civil contract of photography” generates civic duty and a new kind of citizenship.
The Vernacular and Art
Just over a decade ago, historians of photography were lamenting that pictures considered ordinary, conventional, mass-produced, amateur, or inartistic—in a word, vernacular—were pushed to the scholarly margins, especially in/by the discipline of art history. The variety of vernacular photographic studies represented in caa.reviews suggests that those historians would now have much to celebrate. The scholarship on photography and politics noted above contains “everyday” snaps, journalistic images, and government documents whose aims exceeded, and in some cases outright rejected, strictly aesthetic matters. Other studies reviewed here have undertaken in-depth critical examinations of specific vernacular photographic genres, in many cases for the first time. They include books on: survey photography (Elizabeth Edwards, The Camera as Historian: Amateur Photographers and Historical Imagination, 1885–1918 [click here for review]), photographic albums (Elizabeth Siegel, Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage [click here for review]; Elizabeth Siegel, Galleries of Friendship and Fame: A History of Nineteenth-Century American Photograph Albums [click here for review]; Martha Langford, Suspended Conversations: The Afterlife of Memory in Photographic Albums [click here for review]), missionary photographs (T. Jack Thompson, Light on Darkness? Missionary Photography of Africa in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries [click here for review]), postcards (David Prochaska and Jordana Mendelson, eds., Postcards: Ephemeral Histories of Modernity [click here for review]; Jeff Rosenheim, Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard [click here for review]; Luc Sante, Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard 1905–1930 [click here for review]), scientific photographs (Josh Ellenbogen, Reasoned and Unreasoned Images: The Photography of Bertillon, Galton, and Marey [click here for review]; Phillip Prodger, Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution [click here for review]), and early studio photographs (Marcy J. Dinius, The Camera and the Press: American Visual and Print Culture in the Age of the Daguerreotype [click here for review]; Tanya Sheehan, Doctored: The Medicine of Photography in Nineteenth-Century America [click here for review]; Mark Haworth-Booth, Photographer of Modern Life: Camille Silvy [click here for review]). Two studies stand out for their especially creative use of vernacular photographic archives: Anthony Lee’s A Shoemaker’s Story: Being Chiefly about French Canadian Immigrants, Enterprising Photographers, Rascal Yankees, and Chinese Cobblers in a Nineteenth-Century Factory Town (click here for review), which concerns Chinese immigrant workers in New England, and Tina Campt’s Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe (click here for review), which studies people of African descent in Germany and England. Each author uncovers a cache of early photographs that document a particular diasporic community and uses those objects to reconstruct gripping personal and social histories.
The recent focus on vernacular photographies, however, has not signaled the end of traditional art-historical subjects and narrative structures. Some authors, like Rosenheim, enlist the vernacular in the service of art history; in his case, an exploration of the “picture postcard” shows how much the genre influenced fine-art photography, notably the work of the celebrated American documentary photographer Walker Evans. A similar strategy informs Elizabeth Easton’s exhibition catalogue Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard (click here for review). Its point of departure is the advent of the Kodak camera in 1888 and its mass availability, but its real interest lies in what that “everyday” photographic technology could do for Postimpressionist painters, personally and professionally. Easton’s volume is one example of academics’ and curators’ current fascination with the interchange between modern European painting and the medium of photography. The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848–1875 (click here for review) and The Lens of Impressionism: Photography and Painting Along the Normandy Coast, 1850–1874 (click here for review) are others, both accompanying major art museum exhibitions. Their central question appears to be one of influence, with photography acting upon painting in formal and occasionally conceptual ways. As Laurie Dahlberg observes in her review of The Lens of Impressionism, this question repackages an old concern “raised by scholars over fifty years ago.” That it is reemerging in the 2010s shows that conceptions of photography as instrumental to art still remain, and will likely continue to do so, as art historians work to stake out their territory in the increasingly interdisciplinary terrain of photography studies.
This gesture of marking territory is especially vigorous in Michael Fried’s Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before (click here for review). The title says it all. Fried turns his attention to large-scale contemporary art photography, exemplified by Jeff Wall, demonstrating to art historians that it fits into existing histories and theories of modernism, particularly his own formulation of absorption vs. theatricality originally applied by Fried to French painting of the eighteenth century, American painting of the 1960s, and more. The influence of Fried’s newest publication on art historians is considerable, as Gillian Young contends in her review of Diarmuid Costello and Margaret Iversen’s edited volume, Photography After Conceptual Art (click here for review). But it has also received resistance from others who write about photography, including contributors to caa.reviews. Martha Schwendener, for example, invokes Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before in her discussion of Words Without Pictures, edited by Charlotte Cotton and Alex Klein, which she describes as a “small, portable, heterogeneous, and multi-vocal” volume that interprets individual photographs but intentionally requires the reader to seek their illustration elsewhere (click here for review). Unlike Fried’s “grand narrative,” Schwendener explains, Words Without Pictures “refuses to place one artist, narrative, or lineage at the center of contemporary photography.” Jorge Ribalta also cites Fried’s book in his assessment of Azoulay’s The Civil Contract of Photography and John Tagg’s The Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Truths and the Capture of Meaning, praising them for challenging Fried’s deliberately provocative title (click here for review). “Together,” he writes, Azoulay and Tagg “offer a very different conclusion: if photography can return to a polemical documentary status today, then it will come back to life.” This argument made in caa.reviews will form the basis of Ribalta’s forthcoming and aptly titled book, Why Photography Matters as a Document as Never Before.
Another art-historical mode that appears to be alive and well is the monograph. Amid the proliferation of cultural studies built around anonymous photographs, there has been a reassertion of the author in books on contemporary artists Cindy Sherman (click here for review), Francesca Woodman (click here for review), and Yves Klein (click here for review), early photographers L. J. M. Daguerre (click here for review), Felice Beato (click here for review), and Camille Silvy (click here for review), and even the multi-talented man of science Charles Darwin (click here for review). A good number of these books accompanied exhibitions mounted at the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and other major venues for fine art where high value continues to be placed on named “masters.” Anne McCauley reflects on this value in her review of Haworth-Booth’s Photographer of Modern Life, which she describes as an “enthusiastic biography” of Silvy. Although “biography as an art-historical method” has been heavily critiqued for “its emphasis on intentionality and agency which ignores the irrationality and unconscious desires at the heart of the creative process,” she explains, it remains an important tool in the history of photography, “in which so little is known about the medium’s early practitioners.” François Brunet makes a similar observation in his review of Stephen Pinson’s Speculating Daguerre: Art and Enterprise in the Work of L. J. M. Daguerre, noting that “startlingly” it “stands as the first major scholarly publication on Daguerre, an artist and one of the chief inventors of photography.” Rather than attending to early photography’s “social meaning and its relationship to modernity,” Pinson narrows in on “Daguerre’s art and career” in order to reconcile his investment in early photographic processes with his staggering array of artistic pursuits and thereby assert Daguerre’s important place in the history of art. But should Daguerre be seen as exemplary or representative in his multiple interests, artistic and otherwise? McCauley’s review encourages a consideration of the latter when she proposes that “Silvy makes sense more as a type, whose rise and fall from wealth to insanity echo those of many of his peers, rather than a person who imprints his aesthetic and personal values on his photographs.” Allen Hockley identifies a comparable approach at work in Anne Lacoste’s Felice Beato: A Photographer on the Eastern Road. The catalogue essay “provides much more than a survey of his career,” Hockley observes; “it also captures the entrepreneurial spirit of commercial photography in late nineteenth-century Asia.”
Looking In, Moving Forward
And so the debates about photography’s relationship to art and society wage on, as do the larger efforts to define what the medium is, and what it can do. Indeed, there has been no shortage since 2009 of publications attempting to come to terms with the seminal theories of photography generated by the twentieth century or to devise new theories better suited to the concerns of the present moment. The latter impulse I would ascribe to many of the reflections on photography and politics discussed above. Additionally, several books reviewed here are especially invested in exploring the influence on contemporary photography studies of Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, which Sliwinski describes in her review of Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s “Camera Lucida,” edited by Geoffrey Batchen, as “the most quoted book in the photographic canon” (click here for review). Also included are Margaret Olin’s Touching Photographs (click here for review), which contains a chapter on Camera Lucida reprinted in Batchen’s volume; James Elkins’s What Photography Is, characterized by Kate Palmer Albers as a “counter-narrative” to Barthes’s treatise (click here for review); and Kathrin Yacavone’s Benjamin, Barthes and the Singularity of Photography (click here for review). Louis Kaplan adds to this list the newly published writings on photography by the late Jacques Derrida (click here for review). Both Derrida’s Copy, Archive, Signature: A Conversation on Photography and his Athens, Still Remains: The Photographs of Jean-François Bonhomme are haunted by Barthes’s Camera Lucida, Kaplan observes; this is particularly apparent in the case of the latter, which can be seen as a “meditation on photography and its relation to death.” The documentary filmmaker Errol Morris offers a similar meditation of sorts in his first publication on photography, Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography (click here for review).
Douglas Nickel beautifully encapsulated the current state of photography studies when he opened his recent contribution to caa.reviews with the following sentence: “It used to be simpler.” Within art history alone, scholars are now faced with photography’s “artworld embrace, record prices for works, an elaborate infrastructure for education and exhibition, and many histories of photography to choose from” (click here for review). The titles and voices selected for inclusion in caa.reviews demonstrate, however, that no one devoted to studying photography can barricade herself or himself in a single discipline. To write about photography today is to participate in a field marked by plurality—in its disciplinary identities, subject matters, methods of analysis, conceptions of history, theoretical apparatuses, manners of address, intended audiences, and so on. It would seem impossible, then, to marshal this plurality in a single text, and yet several publications reviewed here have sought to do just that. Sarah Parsons presents the collection of essays titled Photography: Theoretical Snapshots, for example, as “a careful, reasoned, broad-based survey of thinking about photographs” that “showcase[s] the rich inter- and multi-disciplinarity of approaches to photography” (click here for review). And Helen Westgeest praises Jae Emerling’s Photography: History and Theory for adopting an “integrated approach” that makes it one of the few “publications on photography [to] have interwoven history and theory in a sustained fashion” (click here for review). With these efforts to encompass and incorporate also comes the impulse to contain, contract, and delimit—that is, to bring the mess under control. Results on that front have been mixed. While Robin Kelsey and Blake Stimson brought together artists, art historians, media theorists, and others to represent the state of the field in The Meaning of Photography, they have been criticized for condensing its multiple voices into a narrative about photography’s “definitive meaning” (click here for review). Global and transhistorical in scope, the newest survey history of photography to hit the market, edited by Juliet Hacking, also opens itself up to critique through its title: Photography: The Whole Story (click here for review). “Many believe that photography is too big and multifarious to be made one thing,” Nickel points out in his review of this tome, which is intended for use as a textbook.
What do such projects teach the next generation of writers on photography? That they can, and must, do it all if they are to tell photography’s “story”? Or, that the story has a definite beginning and end, in time and across the world? That those points are fixed by individual authors? That the field of photo studies is a moving target? Yes, all of these things. But also something else: that the field is markedly self-conscious about its parameters and deeply invested in the continuous (re)definition of its primary subject—photography. Based on my work for caa.reviews, I would argue that this is the field’s defining characteristic.
Field Editor for Photography and Editorial Board member, caa.reviews; Associate Professor, Department of Art, Colby College