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On Writing with Photography

On Writing with Photography

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 368
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    On Writing with Photography
    Book Description:

    From James Agee to W. G. Sebald, there has been an explosion of modern documentary narratives and fiction combining text and photography in complex and fascinating ways. However, these contemporary experiments are part of a tradition that stretches back to the early years of photography. Writers have been integrating photographs into their work for as long as photographs have existed, producing rich, multilayered creations; and photographers have always made images that incorporate, respond to, or function as writing.On Writing with Photographyexplores what happens to texts-and images-when they are brought together.

    From the mid-nineteenth century to the present, this collection addresses a wide range of genres and media, including graphic novels, children's books, photo-essays, films, diaries, newspapers, and art installations. Examining the works of Herman Melville, Don DeLillo, Claude McKay, Man Ray, Dare Wright, Guy Debord, Zhang Ailing, and Roland Barthes, among others, the essays trace the relationship between photographs and "reality" and describe the imaginary worlds constructed by both, discussing how this production can turn into testimony of personal and collective history, memory and trauma, gender and sexuality, and ethnicity.

    Together, these essays help explain how writers and photographers-past and present-have served as powerful creative resources for each other.

    Contributors: Stuart Burrows, Brown U; Roderick Coover, Temple U; Adrian Daub, Stanford U; Marcy J. Dinius, DePaul U; Marianne Hirsch, Columbia U; Daniel H. Magilow, U of Tennessee, Knoxville; Janine Mileaf; Tyrus Miller, U of California, Santa Cruz; Leah Rosenberg, U of Florida; Xiaojue Wang, U of Pennsylvania.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8884-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    What does it mean to “write with photography”? In what variety of contexts does this long-standing but ever-evolving collaboration take place? What kinds of material support has it required or generated over the course of its now-long history, and what difference do these locations and materials make not only to how we understand the nature of the interaction between writing and photography, but also to how this interaction mediates the world? These are the central questions that preoccupy the authors gathered together here. Though this volume is obviously not the first to have considered the important relationship between writing and...

  5. 1 From the Birth of Photography to the Death of the Author
    (pp. 1-13)

    This essay begins not with an epigraph but with a photograph—or rather a pair of photographs—that serves a similar function. The photograph and the epigraph both stand as signs of a captured essence—the former iconically, the latter metonymically. That select words and images, taken out of context, could carry such representational weight, that they regularly stand in for complex ideas and individuals, is a central concern of Herman Melville’s 1852 novelPierreand Don DeLillo’sMao II, published in 1991. As bookends to the photographic age (Pierrewas published during the rise of the daguerreotype andMao...

  6. 2 Picturing the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell and the Divergent Paths of Art and Science in the Representation of the Colorado River and Utah Canyonlands
    (pp. 14-40)

    How does one picture an unknown territory? In the map drawn by the 1841 U.S. Exploring Expedition led by Charles Wilkes, a band of text describes a large blank area in the center of the arid American West as a “waste of sand.” A limited number of pioneer routes—mostly following Native American pathways—cut across the vast dry landscape that lies between the Midwestern plains and the California coast. Literally and metaphorically, the new nation turns inward to define what is, perhaps, its final frontier. Early and quasi-scientific explorations of the desert West, including the expeditions of the Colorado...

  7. 3 “Watch How Dem Touris’ Like Fe Look”: Tourist Photography and Claude McKay’s Jamaica
    (pp. 41-68)

    Claude McKay launched his literary career with creole poems written in the voice of peasant speakers, detailing their quotidian experiences and existential crises. Printed and performed in Jamaica and published as two volumes,Songs of JamaicaandConstab Ballads(1912), in England, McKay’s dialect poetry constituted some of Jamaica’s first self-consciously national literature; it was part of Jamaica’s emergent cultural nationalism, which in addition to advocating for improved economic opportunity and justice from the British colonial government, promoted a Jamaican literature centered on the peasantry.

    Despite its historical significance and the high praise it garnered when first published, McKay’s early...

  8. 4 Captured Things: Man Ray’s Object Photography
    (pp. 69-93)

    Among his many artistic occupations, Man Ray is known for assembling objects and for making photographs. As bricoleur of three-dimensional things, he produced some of his most celebrated works:Lampshade, Cadeau, andObject to Be Destroyedamong them. Yet he is probably most uniformly embraced as a photographer, with an output that ranges from glamorous spreads in fashion magazines and portraits of his fellow artists to seemingly uninflected copy photographs or the oneiric frames that helped define surrealist visuality. A key, yet overlooked, component of his photography is that which records his assemblages. In the essay that follows, I consider...

  9. 5 Photography’s Linguistic Turn: On Werner Graeff’s Here Comes the New Photographer!
    (pp. 94-116)

    In 1932, the German photography annualDas Deutsche Lichtbild(The German photograph) published a tongue-in-cheek yet revealing one-act play among its images. Written by the editor and critic Hugo Sieker, the eight-page skit, “Photograph and Personality: A Discussion Concerning the Current Photographic Situation,” featured a magazine photo editor and an art critic as its protagonists. The photo editor proposes that the art critic review a New Photography exhibit at a local art gallery, but the art critic vehemently objects. Their disagreement quickly turns into an opportunity to voice arguments about photography at a pivotal moment in the medium’s history.


  10. 6 The Power of What Is Not There: James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
    (pp. 117-144)

    James Agee’s dense, intermittently lyrical, occasionally opaque 1941 photo-textLet Us Now Praise Famous Men—his infamously long and largely unread study of three tenant families in Alabama—has been repeatedly characterized as the attempt to render in prose the justly famous Walker Evans photographs that open the book. To a large degree, Agee himself is responsible for this situation, having punctuatedPraisewith a series of tributes to the representational power of the camera, which he dubs “the central instrument of our time.”¹ The most famous of these pronouncements seems to leave little doubt as to Agee’s view of...

  11. 7 Playing Doll
    (pp. 145-172)

    In 1957, Dare Wright published her first book, a children’s story,The Lonely Doll. The book brings together text with photographs Wright had taken, and it had an immediate commercial success. Wright wrote other picture books that followed the life and adventures of the lonely doll, Edith, and publishedHoliday for Edith and the Bearsin 1958,The Doll and the Kittenin 1960, andEdith and Mr. Bearin 1964. Indeed, by 1981 Wright had published nineteen books that could be included in the “Lonely Doll” series or that were similar text-and-photograph children’s books.¹

    At the time ofThe...

  12. 8 Situating Images: Photography, Writing, and Cinema in the Work of Guy Debord
    (pp. 173-201)

    The question of the image occupied a central place in the writing, political activity, and cinematic work of the founder of the Situationist International, Guy Debord.¹ In Debord’s most influential work, for example, his thesis-like dissection of “the society of the spectacle” in the book and film bearing this name, he virtually translated Marx’s “capital” into “image,” as the linchpin of a whole set of social relations, structures of feeling, and historical developments. Thus, toward the beginning of Guy Debord’s 1967 bookLa Société du spectacle(The society of the spectacle)—a passage also read in voice-over in his 1973...

  13. 9 The Generation of Postmemory
    (pp. 202-230)

    The “hinge generation,” the “guardianship of the Holocaust,” the ways in which “received, transferred knowledge of events is being transmuted into history, or into myth” (Hoffman xv)—these, indeed, have been my preoccupations for the last decade and a half. I have been involved in a series of conversations about how that “sense of living connection” can be, and is being, maintained and perpetuated even as the generation of survivors leaves our midst, and how, at the very same time, it is being eroded. For me, the conversations that have marked what Hoffman calls the “era of memory” (203) have...

  14. 10 Picturing the Specter of History: Zhang Ailing’s Visual Practice
    (pp. 231-253)

    Ever since the introduction of photography, and shortly thereafter, film, to China in the mid- to late nineteenth century, the new visual media have probed the formation of modern Chinese culture. The oft-discussed episode of Lu Xun’s slide-viewing incident is a good example of how verbal and visual modes of representation joined forces at the launching moment of Chinese literary modernity. In the preface to his first short story collection,Nahan(A call to arms, 1922), Lu Xun, the founding father of modern Chinese literature, wrote about his early experiences as a medical student in Japan. During one class break,...

  15. 11 Sphinxes without Secrets: W. G. Sebald’s Albums and the Aesthetics of Photographic Exchange
    (pp. 254-296)

    Years ago, I visited an elderly couple in suburban Pennsylvania, fugitives from Hitler’s Germany, who had been, during his lifetime, friends of the writer Winfried Georg Sebald (1944–2001). The two were avid collectors, in particular of photographs, and the novelist, fascinated and possessed of similar impulses, had borrowed some of their keepsakes for possible inclusion in a new novel. Sebald had died in a car accident shortly before I first met the elderly couple, and the novel that might have housed their snapshots was never written. During one of my visits, a misunderstanding arose due to my own poor...

  16. 12 Nothing to Say: The War on Terror and the Mad Photography of Roland Barthes
    (pp. 297-330)

    The current “war on terror” highlights, yet again, the stakes of the debate surrounding photography’s role in shaping history, our memories of events, and our responses to events and images of events.¹ The widely circulated photographs of the World Trade Center’s fall and of the people who died in it; the easily transmitted and more easily suppressed digital photographs of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. and British soldiers; the forbidden photographs of caskets returning home, and of Iraqi and American dead: these images and the controversies associated with them call upon us to revisit the question of photography’s...

    (pp. 331-334)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 335-346)