On Writing with Photography
Publication Year: 2013
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 Photography explores 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.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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The topic of the Penn Humanities Forum during academic year 2005–6 was “Word and Image.” With the generous support of the forum’s founding director Wendy Steiner, topic directors Catriona MacLeod and Liliane Weissberg scheduled a series of lectures and events, one of which, a one-day...
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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...
Chapter 1: From the Birth of Photography to the Death of the Author
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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,...
Chapter 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
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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...
Chapter 3: “Watch How Dem Touris’ Like Fe Look”: Tourist Photography and Claude McKay’s Jamaica
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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 Jamaica and Constab Ballads,...
Chapter 4: Captured Things: Man Ray’s Object Photography
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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, and Object to Be Destroyed among them. Yet he is...
Chapter 5: Photography’s Linguistic Turn: On Werner Graeff’s Here Comes the New Photographer!
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In 1932, the German photography annual Das 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...
Chapter 6: The Power of What Is Not There: James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
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James Agee’s dense, intermittently lyrical, occasionally opaque 1941 photo-text Let 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...
Chapter 7: Playing Doll
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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,...
Chapter 8: Situating Images: Photography, Writing, and Cinema in the Work of Guy Debord
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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...
Chapter 9: The Generation of Postmemory
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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...
Chapter 10: Picturing the Specter of History: Zhang Ailing’s Visual Practice
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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...
Chapter 11: Sphinxes without Secrets: W. G. Sebald’s Albums and the Aesthetics of Photographic Exchange
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Chapter 12: Nothing to Say: The War on Terror and the Mad Photography of Roland Barthes
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Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2013