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Making Photography Matter

Making Photography Matter: A Viewer's History from the Civil War to the Great Depression

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Making Photography Matter
    Book Description:

    Photography became a dominant medium in mass culture starting in the late nineteenth century. As it happened, viewers increasingly used their reactions to photographs to comment on and debate public issues as vital as war, national identity, and citizenship. Cara A. Finnegan analyzes a wealth of newspaper and magazine articles, letters to the editor, trial testimony, books, and speeches produced by viewers in response to specific photos they encountered in public. From the portrait of a young Lincoln to images of child laborers and Depression-era hardship, Finnegan treats the photograph as a locus for viewer engagement and constructs a history of photography's viewers that shows how Americans used words about images to participate in the politics of their day. As she shows, encounters with photography helped viewers negotiate the emergent anxieties and crises of U.S. public life through not only persuasion but action, as well.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09731-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Viewers Reading Photographs
    (pp. 1-10)

    Studies of photography’s historical viewers are rare, and with good reason. It is not easy to access the experiences of historical viewers. The critic seeking to account for such experiences inevitably runs up against the problem that the act of viewing typically leaves no discursive traces.¹ To say the least, this puts one at a loss for evidence. David Freedberg outlines the core problem: “How can one say anything at all about popular response and popular attitudes to images in history in the absence of living witnesses?”² I address this critical dilemma by using my training as a scholar of...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Presence of Unknown Soldiers and Imaginary Spirits: Viewing National Grief and Trauma in the Civil War Era
    (pp. 11-50)

    In the fall of 1862 Oliver Wendell Holmes learned his son had been shot in the neck at the battle of Antietam.¹ Upon receiving the news at home in Boston, the poet, medical doctor, Harvard University professor, writer, and photography enthusiast commenced a journey by train and wagon to find him. Antietam was the bloodiest action of the Civil War, costing more than six thousand American lives in just two days of fighting; another fifteen thousand soldiers were wounded.² Holmes eventually found his son, the future Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., safe and recovering from a wound that...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Recognizing Lincoln: Portrait Photography and the Physiognomy of National Character
    (pp. 51-80)

    Thirty years after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination,McClure’smagazine published a newly discovered image that to this day remains the earliest known photograph of Lincoln. Revealed to the American public in 1895, nearly fifty years after its creation, the daguerreotype reproduction featured a Lincoln few had seen before: a thirty-something, well-groomed, middle-class gentleman.¹ Readers of the magazine greeted the image with delight. Brooklyn newspaper editor Murat Halstead rhapsodized, “This was the young man with whom the phantoms of romance dallied, the young man who recited poems and was fanciful and speculative, and in love and despair, but upon whose brow there...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Appropriating the Healthy Child: The Child That Toileth Not and Progressive Era Child Labor Photography
    (pp. 81-124)

    As the nineteenth century faded into the dawn of the twentieth, anxieties about the fate of the nation played out not only through the figure of Lincoln the “first American” but also through public deliberation about the fate of the youngest Americans. In earlier centuries Western children were conceived primarily as “faulty small adults, in need of correction and discipline”—and born in sin.¹ Over time, however, a shift occurred. T. J. Jackson Lears observes that by the middle of the nineteenth century, “middle-class children were no longer ‘fostered out’ to relatives or wet nurses. Unlike their colonial predecessors, they...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Managing the Magnitude of the Great Depression: Viewers Respond to FSA Photography
    (pp. 125-168)

    The First International Photographic Exposition at New York City’s Grand Central Palace ran from April 18 through 24, 1938.¹ According to a preview published in theNew York Times, the exposition would feature “the work of both amateurs and professionals and more than 200 camera clubs,” and would be comprised of “news pictures, pictorial views, portraits, industrial and scientific photographs, and a large collection of prints submitted by school children.”² All told, the exposition would feature more than three thousand photographs representing all genres of photography. As the organizing committee wrote in its introduction to the catalog of exhibits and...

  10. CONCLUSION: Photography’s Viewers, Photography’s Histories
    (pp. 169-176)

    Photography helps us learn to see as members of interpretive communities. I have shown one way this works by studying how viewer engagement with photography happens at the local, historically specific level. By closely reading traces of viewers’ encounters with photography, I have written a rhetorical history of photographic viewership showing that viewers were active agents who used their experiences of photography to deliberate about issues of common concern. In this final chapter I explore the value of such a project for those of us invested in studying the role of photography in public life. Specifically, I reflect on what...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 177-226)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 227-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-240)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-242)