Framing the West: Race, Gender, and the Photographic Frontier in the Pacific Northwest by Carol J. Williams, and: Hope in Hard Times: New Deal Photographs of Montana, 1936–1942 by Mary Murphy (review)
- Western American Literature
- The Western Literature Association
- Volume 40, Number 1, Spring 2005
- pp. 104-107
- Additional Information
1 0 4 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n l it e r a t u r e S p r in g 2 0 0 5 The self-reflexivity of this statement, its disarming co-option of the puta tive flaw into a strength, is discoverable throughout the book and may point to its most important achievement. In several places, Ricou explores the border activity of translation, of giving voice and word to the “dumb talk” of oral cultures, of mythic beasts, of illiterate loggers, of cedar, salmon, and salal (46). The “mission statement” of the regionalist writer, Ricou suggests, is “to make place and story indigenous” (44). Ricou’s theoretical approach might be classified as ecocritical, centering as it does on the interdependent relations between human life and natural world, but his analyses of texts are most insightful and valuable in their explorations of language, in their focus on how the experiences and materials of the writer’s life and regional subject have been shaped as words, have been named. Beautifully written, inventive, original, The Arbutus/Madrone Files is, finally, more a work of literary imagination than an exercise in critical analysis, impossible to describe here in all its range and diversity, a book to read and savor. It should be recognized as one of the most illuminating accounts of region and regional writing that has been produced in the last thirty years, and in the annals of Pacific Northwest literature and criticism, it stands alone. Framing the West: Race, Qender, and the Photographic Frontier in the Pacific Northwest. By Carol J. Williams. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 216 pages, $21.95. Hope in Hard Times: New Deal Photographs of Montana, 1936-1942. By Mary Murphy. Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 2003. 256 pages, $22.00. Reviewed by Lisa MacFarlane University of New Hampshire, Durham The photograph is a seductive icon. From the moment of the medium’s invention, writers as varied as Mark Twain and W. J. T. Mitchell have reminded us that photographic meaning is inconstant, ambiguous, even promiscuous, revealing all to whomever happens to look, matching desire with confirmation. Scholars can easily fall victim to the photograph’s promises: after all, we have our own predispositions, narratives, and intellectual values, and we seek valida tion for them in the form of the historical evidence the photograph seems to offer. We know to resist first impressions, but we also know that our resistance is potentially a reactive and formulaic move, oppositional perhaps, but no more constant. To make use of photographic evidence, then, one has to be both an affirming reader and a resisting one, both alert to and suspicious of the promises the medium offers for revealing the past. Carol J. Williams and Mary Murphy are just such readers. B o o k R e v ie w s 1 0 5 In keeping with the tendency of many studies of photography today, Framing the West and Hope in Hard Times orient themselves around two signifi cant moments in North American history: the long turn into the twentieth century and the period of the Great Depression. Each historical period comes with its own prevailing narrative. Framing the West is set within and against a scholarly tradition that sees the camera as a tool of scientific racism, of imperial coercion, and of the primitivist aesthetics that result from, in Renato Rosaldo’s term, “imperial nostalgia.” Hope in Hard Times engages the questions surround ing the contradictory roles assumed by Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers as documentarians, propagandists, artists, freelance journalists, and advocates for their subjects. Each book seeks to extend and complicate both the narratives and the archives from which they draw. They do so by reorienting our gaze, asking us to look behind or beyond the lens to see the rich histories that inform the moments in which the images occur. For Williams, this means excavating the multiple influences that inform the specific circum stances of the images themselves and setting them within a series of overlap ping histories of the Pacific Northwest. For Murphy, this means returning our gaze not to the subjects but to...