We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

On Writing with Photography

Karen Beckman

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


pdf iconDownload PDF (23.8 MB)
p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (74.0 KB)
pp. 2-5


pdf iconDownload PDF (74.0 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (49.6 KB)
pp. vii-9

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...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (102.5 KB)
pp. ix-xvii

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...

read more

Chapter 1: From the Birth of Photography to the Death of the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (170.9 KB)
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,...

read more

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

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
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...

read more

Chapter 3: “Watch How Dem Touris’ Like Fe Look”: Tourist Photography and Claude McKay’s Jamaica

pdf iconDownload PDF (600.0 KB)
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 Jamaica and Constab Ballads,...

read more

Chapter 4: Captured Things: Man Ray’s Object Photography

pdf iconDownload PDF (428.9 KB)
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, and Object to Be Destroyed among them. Yet he is...

read more

Chapter 5: Photography’s Linguistic Turn: On Werner Graeff’s Here Comes the New Photographer!

pdf iconDownload PDF (287.5 KB)
pp. 94-116

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...

read more

Chapter 6: The Power of What Is Not There: James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

pdf iconDownload PDF (203.1 KB)
pp. 117-144

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...

read more

Chapter 7: Playing Doll

pdf iconDownload PDF (816.8 KB)
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,...

read more

Chapter 8: Situating Images: Photography, Writing, and Cinema in the Work of Guy Debord

pdf iconDownload PDF (668.7 KB)
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...

read more

Chapter 9: The Generation of Postmemory

pdf iconDownload PDF (423.9 KB)
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...

read more

Chapter 10: Picturing the Specter of History: Zhang Ailing’s Visual Practice

pdf iconDownload PDF (310.0 KB)
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...

Chapter 11: Sphinxes without Secrets: W. G. Sebald’s Albums and the Aesthetics of Photographic Exchange

pdf iconDownload PDF (789.9 KB)
pp. 254-296

Chapter 12: Nothing to Say: The War on Terror and the Mad Photography of Roland Barthes

pdf iconDownload PDF (529.5 KB)
pp. 297-330


pdf iconDownload PDF (74.2 KB)
pp. 331-333


pdf iconDownload PDF (119.0 KB)
pp. 335-345

E-ISBN-13: 9780816688845
E-ISBN-10: 0816688842
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816677290

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2013