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227 Conclusion Twentieth-Century Echoes Despite their vibrancy and relevance throughout the nineteenth century , the images in this book began to appear, by comparison, outdated and even obsolete by the turn of the century due to major changes in both illustration and the art world. To consider the afterlife of nineteenthcentury America’s visual obsession with labor and technology, it may be worth briefly turning to the Progressive Era and beyond. In so doing, we may rehabilitate these images, many of which are now relatively unknown even within the history of American art, as crucial precursors to fields of representation from art photography and avant-garde painting to social documentary and Precisionism. All of these movements and moments had strong roots in nineteenth-century ideas about efficiency, technological progress, and national identity, though their responses to these questions diverged often quite markedly from the concerns of nineteenth-century artists. One of the most crucial shifts from nineteenth- to twentieth-century representational strategies lay in what the intellectual historian Neil ­Harris calls the “technological innovation” and “iconographical revolution” of the turn to halftone reproduction in the 1890s.1 By the turn of the century , almost all the major illustrated periodicals had begun using halftone printing for the reproduction of both original artwork and photographs. The halftone process had been refined by a Philadelphia-based inventor, Frederic Ives, in 1881; it constituted a less expensive and supposedly more faithful form of reproduction than wood engraving.2 Where once artists and engravers had given free interpretation to the news, the supposed Schulman_BM_REV_Pgs 227-290.indd 227 11/5/2015 9:06:31 AM 228 Conclusion­rationalism and impartiality of the photographic medium now dominated. Despite these advantages, however, major illustrated periodicals were fairly slow to embrace halftone technology, probably because, as Harper’s Weekly’s political cartoonist W. A. Rogers later put it in his autobiography, while a wood engraving “at its best follows the mood and the method of the artist,” the halftone process rolls over original artwork “with the crushing effect of a steam roller.”3 Flattening tonal varieties and blurring sharp lines, early halftone reproductions, from the perspective of many artists, were far from satisfactory. Two representations of iron production from the 1890s forcibly demonstrate the shortcomings of early halftone photographic reproduction (figs. 66 and 67). A representation of a Birmingham, Alabama, iron foundry displays a spectacular and sublime scene of industry but one that also conforms to the panoramic urges of the managerial eye. The viewer sees the scene from one end of a vast hall: almost twenty ­laborers are clearly visible with their long rabbles, prodding and stirring the iron, which emits fantastic sparks, rendered as pure white gouge marks in the center of the image. The perspectival construction of this interior is fanciful. In the foreground, a car track, clearly straight, curves to be accommodated into the composition. The viewer’s position is an impossible one, almost as if he were dangling halfway down from the ceiling, a point of view that allows him to look just slightly down on the scene. These elements combine to give a sense of panorama, as if the setting had been captured with a wide-angle lens (the apparent distortion or curvature of several structures also gives this effect), and the large-size format of Harper’s Weekly gave this double-page spread even more visual impact. Only a few figures overlap one another, and each performs his appointed task. Details of the composition lend a sense of realism one might expect from a journalistic representation; a resting man in the foreground mops his brow with a handkerchief, for instance. These small gestures all convey an image of truthful reportage, while at the same time, the compositional distortions lend the familiar sense of power and control. By contrast, a photograph from only six years later demonstrates the disappointing initial implementation of halftone photography. “A View of a Great Smithy” presents such an unrelenting grayness that at first it is difficult to tell what is being depicted at all. Once viewers adjust to the flatness of tone and begin to examine the details of the scene, they can make out a bit more, but there is no instantly graspable message from this image. Instead, it presents a jumble of workers, tools, and products without any overriding logic or lesson. On a table in the center foreground sits an Schulman_BM_REV_Pgs 227-290.indd 228 11/5/2015 9:06:31 AM Figure 67...


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