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Old Fields

Photography, Glamour, and Fantasy Landscape

John R. Stilgoe

Publication Year: 2014

Glamour subverts convention. Models, images, and even landscapes can skew ordinary ways of seeing when viewed through the lens of photography, suggesting new worlds imbued with fantasy, mystery, sexuality, and tension.

In Old Fields, John Stilgoe—one of the most original observers of his time—offers a poetic and controversial exploration of the generations-long effort to portray glamour. Fusing three forces in contemporary American culture—amateur photography after 1880; the rise of glamour and fantasy; and the often-mysterious quality of landscape photographs—Stilgoe provides a wide-ranging yet concentrated take on the cultural legacy of our photographic history.

Through the medium of "shop theory"—the techniques, tools, and purpose-made equipment a maker uses to realize intent—Stilgoe looks at the role of Eastman Kodak in shaping the ways photographers purchased cameras and films, while also mapping the divisions that were created by European-made cameras. He then goes on to argue that with the proliferation of digital cameras, smart phones, and Instagram, young people’s lack of knowledge about photographic technique is in direct correlation to their lack of knowledge of the history of glamour photography.

In his exploration of the rise of glamour and fantasy in contemporary American culture, Stilgoe offers a provocative and very personal look into his enduring fascination with, and the possibilities inherent in, creating one’s own images.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

Landscape glimmers in fantasy fiction and in glamour photography. Both subvert contemporary convention and postmodern ideology. They herald the end of traditional ecosystem concern and the imminent arrival of designed life forms, and they off er innovative views of traditional...

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pp. 1-12

Glamour governs everything that follows here. Descrying anything in haze or twilight, especially the shadows and shimmering of long-marginalized subjects, demands sustained scrutiny of what is there, might be there, and seems not to be there but nonetheless casts shadows. Scrutiny o" en begins in glimpse. Viewing itself...

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1: Fantasy

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pp. 13-30

Fantasy opens on faerie. Britons long imagined faerie as the place of enchantment, sorcery, and illusion, the ground itself of visual magic, of glamour. Well into the eighteenth century, rural Britons knew it sometimes as a place and sometimes as pure illusion itself...

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2: Media

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pp. 31-54

I Dream of Jeannie debuted as a prime-time television situation comedy the previous year. I dismissed it: the syrupy actress in harem pants and the improbable plots seemed beyond stupidity. In the early winter of  I heard on overseas radio that “the American film production code” governing...

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3: Shop Theory

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pp. 55-82

In the town where I grew up, most local women and girls refused point-blank to be photographed in homemade bikinis briefer than those they wore on the beach and aboard boats. The quasi-public gaze of far-off photo processing plant employees and the possibility...

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4: Brownies

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pp. 83-106

Excited but determined to stay calm, the Boy Scouts hurry to develop the film just removed from one of their cameras. Huddled in a tent atop a West Virginia mountain, they unpack their small developing tank, decide to speed the processing of the film, and...

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5: Od

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pp. 107-128

She stands facing the observer in a robe, not diaphanous but not opaque, and in a headdress glorifying the tree of life. Hair up, hands down, she holds a No. A Autographic Kodak Special, offering what the Eastman Kodak Company called “the highest type of...

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6: Ways

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pp. 129-154

In 1910 Hilaire Belloc remarked "An isolation which our forefathers never knew” in regions of Great Britain distant from railroads and laced by the overgrown roads and footpaths from which stagecoaches, long-distance wagons, and even oxcarts had long...

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7: Light

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pp. 155-186

In 1911 Alfred Watkins reminisced about his early photographic efforts along the old ways of Great Britain. Thirty-five years earlier, when he was twenty-one and employed as a brewery salesman, he carried his camera, wet plates, and developing outfit with...

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8: Voodoo

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pp. 187-220

Belle Grove burned on March 15, 1952. The great plantation house blazed into the following morning. “This is the first picture I made on that Sunday, when the bricks were still hot,” wrote Clarence John Laughlin of one image. “Great cavities had opened in the...

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9: Old Fields

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pp. 221-250

As Laughlin photographed the most disquieting scenes deep in the Louisiana back country, what he called the power of the unknown stressed the brittle intellectual system of rural New England. Traditional understanding of local history clashed with novel ecological...

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10: Imagers

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pp. 251-278

Quietude encourages photographic experimentation, especially among skilled enthusiasts free of the time constraints professionals loathe. Beginning in the Depression, photographers working in abandoned landscape with equipment they had modifi ed themselves...

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11: Rolleiflex

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pp. 279-306

Only accident linked my boyhood Old-Fields landscape and my early interest in Depression-era photographic technique. Medium-format photography, what I unhesitatingly and thoughtlessly considered “photography,” began to fascinate me around the age...

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12: Tutorial

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pp. 307-328

In 1935 Albert Jourdan discovered his wife framed in a doorway, eating a cluster of grapes she had just picked. “I sneaked up and took fi ve minishots of her just like fi ring with a sixshooter,” he reported in American Photography. “While aiming the sixth...

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13: Chrome

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pp. 329-360

In the late Spring of 1972. in the early afternoon when the moist air caused the slanting sunlight to turn golden, I found the near-perfect nereid wading a few yards ahead of my boat. Relaxed among chartreuse marsh grass and wearing a chartreuse bikini...

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14: Spirit

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pp. 361-392

Suzy Parker brought bikinis into mainstream American media in the early 1960s. The premiere American model championed the suits as heralding a new era of female freedom. No longer risqué Riviera beachwear, the suits emblemized a new, confi dent physicality...

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pp. 393-402

"In the old days, long before anyone thought of speaking ‘candid’ and “photography’ in the same breath, amateur pho tographers concerned themselves almost exclusively with ‘views,’ ” mused Thomas H. Miller and Wyatt Brummitt, two Eastman Kodak...


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pp. 403-448


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pp. 449-510


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pp. 511-518

E-ISBN-13: 9780813935164
E-ISBN-10: 0813935164
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813935157
Print-ISBN-10: 0813935156

Page Count: 536
Illustrations: 17 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vernacular photography.
  • Landscape photography.
  • Photography -- Philosophy.
  • Photography, Artistic.
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  • Open Access
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