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Browse Recent Book Reviews

Glenn Willumson
Berkeley: Ahmanson-Murphy Fine Arts, 2013. 254 pp.; few b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (9780520270947)
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November 26, 2014

Glenn Willumson’s Iron Muse: Photographing the Transcontinental Railroad begins with a discussion of a photograph by Andrew Joseph Russell titled East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail (no. 227) (1869), also known as Meeting of the Rails, Promontory, Utah, 1869. The photograph features workers and executives from the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad celebrating the completion of the transcontinental line. Willumson starts by analyzing how Russell’s photograph is often reproduced...

Eduardo Cadava and Gabriela Nouzeilles, eds.
Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum, 2013. 240 pp.; 135 color ills.; 71 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780300174366)

Exhibition schedule: Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, September 7, 2013–January 19, 2014

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November 26, 2014

There is a kind of fatigue in recent literature on photography. The ritual of declaring a ubiquitous abundance of photographic images, both historical and contemporary, is usually accompanied by a compulsion to address this situation and a requirement to analyze them. But how, in what framework, and to what ends? Understanding photography as a journey, as a set of “itinerant languages,” is one way to respond to this challenge. The Itinerant Languages of Photography, edited...

Catherine Zuromskis
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013. 264 pp.; 77 b/w ills. Cloth $34.95 (9780262019293)
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November 26, 2014

Selfies, Instagram feeds, photo tagging: whatever value we may have once placed on the privacy of our photographs seems gone forever. The incorporation of digital cameras into cell phones has created this condition, launching us into a post-camera, post-print era where we press the button and a messaging service does the rest. The “rest” is to render instantly our private moments into public documents that can be neither reversed nor regulated. As many critics of...

Stephen Bann
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. 276 pp.; 10 color ills.; 95 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780300177275)
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November 26, 2014

Evolutionary approaches positing seamless and irreversible transitions from one medium to another continue to exert a significant hold over the history of art. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the study of nineteenth-century printed images, a field still under the powerful sway of Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Photography and film are held to triumph not only over painting, with its aura of uniqueness, but even over...

Katherine A. Bussard
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. 232 pp.; 104 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780300192261)
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November 14, 2014

It is strangely difficult to consider what is meant by street photography, both for those who write about it and for the photographers for whom the street is their location and, to varying degrees, their subject. This is due in large part to the remarkable success of a genre that is most often championed through reference to its so-called “greats”—photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Harry Callahan, and Garry Winogrand—and, more tellingly still, through a familiarity...

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
London: MACK and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2013. 768 pp.; 614 color ills. Cloth $80.00 (9781907946417)
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November 14, 2014

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s Holy Bible takes the form of a King James facsimile, complete with tissuey paper and gilt edges. Opening the book reveals photographs printed as if pasted over the text, with evocative scriptural phrases underlined in red. A crimson pamphlet in the back bears the essay “Divine Violence” by philosopher Adi Ophir, which argues that the biblical God regulated humanity through catastrophic violence, and that with the rise of law and...

Sarah Pearce, ed.
Supplement Series, Volume II. Oxford: Journal of Jewish Studies, 2013. 288 pp.; 50 color ills. Paper £ 55.00 (978-0957522800)
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November 7, 2014

Although entitled The Image and Its Prohibition in Jewish Antiquity, the ten essays in this collection edited by Sarah Pearce center as much on the power of the image as on its prohibition. From the remarkable wall paintings of the Dura Europos synagogue to the surprising floor mosaics featuring Helios and the zodiac, the richness of ancient Jewish art, particularly the art of Late Antiquity, is on display. Nearly half of the essays focus on...

Dominic Johnson, ed.
Intellect Live. Bristol, UK: Intellect Ltd., 2013. 248 pp.; 132 color ills.; 67 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (9781783200351)
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November 7, 2014

Ron Athey’s performances present bloody religious tableaux, explicit sex, and self-harming actions. Deeply disturbing and profoundly moving, these performances have garnered critical attention and generated controversy since the 1990s, when Athey’s Torture Trilogy (1992–95) became the focal point of Congressional culture war debates. The ideas and aesthetics embedded in Athey’s artworks reflect his complex, overlapping identities, both past and present: Pentecostal child prodigy, punk adolescent, heroin addict, S&M club performer, HIV-positive patient, tattooed man, avant-garde...

John Ott
The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700–1950. Burlington: Ashgate, 2014. 330 pp.; 4 color ills.; 73 b/w ills. Cloth $119.95 (9781409463344)
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October 8, 2014

The title of John Ott’s book, Manufacturing the Modern Patron in Victorian California: Cultural Philanthropy, Industrial Capital, and Social Authority, is a riff on Sarah Burns’s important Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in Gilded Age America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). Ott covers much the same ground chronologically as Burns and with the same high ambitions. But while Burns’s focus is a traditional one on the artist as the maker of meaning,...

Eve Meltzer
University of Chicago Press, 2013. 256 pp.; 36 color ills.; 62 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780226007885)
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October 8, 2014

Eve Meltzer’s Systems We Have Loved: Conceptual Art, Affect, and the Antihumanist Turn returns readers to the structuralist adventure in art history. To recall something of the stakes and texture of that adventure, consider the following exchange in 1976 between Robert Morris, an artist, and A. A., a blind woman hired to assist him with a series of drawings entitled Blind Time II. [R. M.:] “Letting the page stand as a ground for yourself, an...