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At the Edge of Sight
shawn michelle smith
shawn michelle smith
At the Edge of Sight
Photography and the Unseen
Duke University Press Durham and London 2013
© 2013 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid- free paper ♾ Typeset in Minion Pro by Tseng Information Systems, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Smith, Shawn Michelle. At the edge of sight : photography and the unseen / Shawn Michelle Smith. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-8223-5486-4 (cloth : alk. paper) isbn 978-0-8223-5502-1 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Photography—Social aspects—United States. 2. Photography—United States—History. 3. Photography, Artistic—History. I. Title. tr23.s626 2013 770.973—dc23 2013020978
List of Illustrations
1 Introduction First Photographs 21 — Excess and Accident
23 Chapter 1 Race and Reproduction in Camera Lucida 39 Chapter 2 The Politics of Pictorialism: Another Look at F. Holland Day 73 — My Muybridge
75 Chapter 3 The Space Between: Eadweard Muybridge’s Motion Studies 99 Chapter 4 Preparing the Way for the Train: Andrew J. Russell 129 — When the Train Rolls In
131 Chapter 5 Chansonetta Stanley Emmons’s Nostalgic Views
165 Chapter 6 Augustus Washington and the Civil Contract of Photography 193 — In the Crowd
195 Chapter 7 Afterimages: Abu Ghraib 213 — Untitled (Abu Ghraib)
215 Epilogue A Parting Glance 217 Notes 265 Bibliography 283 Index
1. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, View from the Window at Le Gras, “first photograph,” c. 1826 2. William H. Mumler, Bronson Murray, 1862–75 3. F. Holland Day, St. Sebastian, 1906 4. Eadweard J. Muybridge, dancing waltz, two models (detail), 1884–87 5. Andrew J. Russell, Mormon Family, Great Salt Lake Valley, 1869 6. Andrew J. Russell, Hanging Rock, Foot of Echo Cañon, 1869 7. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, To Live in Beauty, glass lantern slide 8. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Old Pillsbury Homestead, Willowdale Farm, Kingfield, Maine, night scene, glass lantern slide 9. Augustus Washington, Philip Coker, c. 1857
Introduction 1. William Henry Fox Talbot, Queen’s College, Oxford, Entrance Gateway, 1844 5 2. William H. Mumler, John J. Glover, 1862–75 9 3. William H. Mumler, Mr. Chapin Oil Merchant—& His Spirit Wife & Babe Recognized, 1862–75 13 4. William Henry Fox Talbot, Bust of Patroclus, 1844 15 Excess and Accident Photographs by Shawn Michelle Smith 21 Chapter 1 1. James VanDerZee, family portrait, 1926 25 Chapter 2 1. F. Holland Day, The Seven Words, 1898 40 2. F. Holland Day, Crucifixion, 1898 40 3. F. Holland Day, Into Thy Hands I Commend My Spirit, 1898 42 4. F. Holland Day, It Is Finished, 1898 43
5. John Lamprey, front view of Malayan male, c. 1868–69 46 6. F. Holland Day, The Return to Earth, 1908 48 7. F. Holland Day, The Vision, 1907 49 8. F. Holland Day, St. Sebastian (close- up), 1906 51 9. F. Holland Day, portrait of Nicola Giancola, c. 1906 52 10. F. Holland Day, Ebony and Ivory, c. 1897 54 11. F. Holland Day, Menelek, 1897 56 12. F. Holland Day, African Chief, 1896 or 1897 57 13. F. Holland Day, An Ethiopian Chief, c. 1897 58 14. F. Holland Day, Beauty Is Truth, Truth Beauty, 1896 59 15. F. Holland Day, Armageddon, c. 1900 60 16. F. Holland Day’s Sacred Subjects, Royal Photographic Society, London, 1900 61 17. Frederick Evans, portrait of F. Holland Day in Algerian robes, 1901 64 18. Clarence H. White, portrait of F. Holland Day with male nude, c. 1897 66 19. F. Holland Day, crucifixion with two Roman soldiers, 1898 68 20. Alvin Langdon Coburn, F. Holland Day in his London darkroom, 1900 70 My Muybridge Artwork by Shawn Michelle Smith 73 Chapter 3 1. Eadweard J. Muybridge, horses, running, 1881 76 2. Eadweard J. Muybridge, running, full speed, 1884–87 78 3. Eadweard J. Muybridge, walking, 1884–87 79 4. Eadweard J. Muybridge, on guard, walking, and turning around, 1884–87 82 5. Eadweard J. Muybridge, striking a blow (right hand), 1884–87 84 6. Eadweard J. Muybridge, boxing, open hand, 1884–87 85 7. Eadweard J. Muybridge, ascending stairs, looking round, waving hand’chief, 1884–87 87 8. Eadweard J. Muybridge, turning, ascending stairs, bucket water in r. hand, 1884–87 87 9. Eadweard J. Muybridge, two models, one pouring bucket of water over eight, 1884–87 88 10. Eadweard J. Muybridge, toilet, two models, one disrobing eight, 1884–87 90 11. Eadweard J. Muybridge, toilet, sitting and putting on stockings, 1884–87 93 12. Eadweard J. Muybridge, getting into bed, 1884–87 93 13. William H. Rau, After the Opera: Dropping the Skirt, c. 1900 94 14. William H. Rau, Chicken Salad and Oysters after the Matinee, c. 1901 94 15. Eadweard J. Muybridge, two models, eight brings cup of tea, one takes cup and drinks, 1884–87 96 16. Eadweard J. Muybridge, two models, one standing, the other sitting, crossing legs, 1884–87 96 17. Eadweard J. Muybridge, wrestling, Graeco- Roman, 1884–87 97 x — Illustrations
Chapter 4 1. Andrew J. Russell, 59 No Construction Train at End of Track Gen Casement’s Outfit Gen in Foreground, c. 1868 102 2. Andrew J. Russell, Major Russell’s Bedroom, Uintas, number 240, 1869 104 3. Andrew J. Russell, Echo City, from Witches Rock, 1868–70 106 4. Andrew J. Russell, Deep Cut, No. 1 West of Wilhelmina Pass, Weber Cañon, 1868–70 108 5. Andrew J. Russell, Shadow Lake, Uintas, 1868–70 109 6. Andrew J. Russell, Carmichael’s Cut, Granite Cañon, 1869 112 7. Andrew J. Russell, Granite Cañon, from the Water Tank, 1869 113 8. Andrew J. Russell, Dale Creek Bridge, from Above, 1869 114 9. Andrew J. Russell, Laramie Hotel, Laramie City, 1869 115 10. Andrew J. Russell, The Wind Mill at Laramie, 1869 116 11. Andrew J. Russell, Source of the Laramie River, 1869 118 12. Andrew J. Russell, On the Mountains of Green River, 1869 119 13. Andrew J. Russell, 227 East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail, May 10, 1869 121 14. Andrew J. Russell, military railroad operations in northern Virginia: men using levers for loosening rails, c. 1862 or 1863 124 15. Andrew J. Russell, Residence of Brigham Young, 1869 126 When the Train Rolls In Photographs by Shawn Michelle Smith 129 Chapter 5 1. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Old Pillsbury Homestead, Willowdale Farm, Kingfield, Maine 132 2. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, The Home of Paul Revere, Boston, 1920 134 3. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Lucy Butts Carville spinning, West New Portland, Maine, c. 1910 137 4. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, attic view, West New Portland, Maine, c. 1909 137 5. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, aunt Hannah and aunt Abigail, 1898–99 138 6. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Isaac husking corn, Kingfield, Maine, c. 1901 139 7. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, uncle Tristram G. Norton shelling corn with Dorothy, Kingfield, Maine, 1901 139 8. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, The Coming of Mechanization, Kingfield, Maine, 1906 140 9. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, loading hay 140 10. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, plowed field 141 11. Wallace Nutting, from Vermont Beautiful, 1922 143 12. Edward S. Curtis, The Vanishing Race—Navaho, c. 1904 145 13. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Appalachia cabin, 1897 146 Illustrations — xi
14. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Private Carriage, 1897 149 15. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, plantation cabins, South Carolina, 1926 150 16. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, No Maam! I Don’t Want My Picture Taken, Charleston, South Carolina, 1926 151 17. Anonymous, Chansonetta Stanley Emmons photographing the Felder family, Charleston, South Carolina, 1926 152 18. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, the Felder family, Charleston, South Carolina, 1926 154 19. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, man on horseback, Dorothy in the background (cropped), Charleston, South Carolina, 1926 155 20. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, landscape view, river and mountains 156 21. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Dorothy in the woods, c. 1905 157 22. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, landscape view, trees and river 158 23. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Dorothy and Berenice in Old Patriarch 160 24. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, To Live in Beauty 161 Chapter 6 1. John Brown, Daguerreotype by Augustus Washington, c. 1846–47 166 2. Augustus Washington, Sarah Taintor Bulkeley Waterman, c. 1853 169 3. Augustus Washington, Eliphalet Adams Bulkeley, c. 1853 171 4. Augustus Washington, Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney, c. 1852 171 5. The Washington Daguerrean Gallery, broadside, 1851 173 6. Advertisement from the Hartford Daily Courant, October 8, 1852 177 7. View of Monrovia from the Anchorage, unidentified artist after daguerreotype by Augustus Washington, 1856 183 8. Augustus Washington, Urias Africanus McGill, c. 1854 185 9. Augustus Washington, unidentified woman (McGill family member), c. 1854 185 10. Augustus Washington, Beverly Page Yates, c. 1857 187 11. Augustus Washington, James B. Yates, c. 1857 188 12. Augustus Washington, Edward Morris, c. 1857 188 13. Augustus Washington, James Skivring Smith, c. 1857 188 14. Augustus Washington, Edward James Roye, c. 1857 189 In the Crowd Artwork by Shawn Michelle Smith 193 Chapter 7 1. Pfc. Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib Prison, October 25, 2003 196 2. Pfc. Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib Prison, November 8, 2003 199 3. Cpl. Charles Graner and Spc. Sabrina Harman, Abu Ghraib Prison, November 7, 2003 204 4. The hooded man, Abu Ghraib Prison, November 4, 2003 206 5. Abu Ghraib Prison, November 2003 207
xii — Illustrations
6. The rescue of Spc. Shoshana Johnson, April 2003 209 7. Pfc. Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib Prison, November 4, 2003 211 Untitled (Abu Ghraib) Artwork by Shawn Michelle Smith 213
Illustrations — xiii
This book owes a great deal to many people and institutions. A Roger Brown Residency, from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, helped me to write a key piece of the book, and a Faculty Enrichment Grant from saic enabled me to secure essential images and reproduction permissions. For supporting my research on chapter 5, I would like to thank the Maine Women Writers Collection at the University of New England and the Stanley Museum, in Kingfield, Maine, especially Jennifer Tuttle, Cally Gurley, and Jim Merrick. I am grateful for the opportunity to present work in progress at the following institutions and conferences: Department of Eng lish, University of Louisville; Critical Issues Speaker Series, University of Connecticut; Center for African American Studies, Princeton University; Humanities Research Center, Rice University; Cultural Studies Department, Columbia College, Chicago; Maine Historical Society; Department of Art History, University of Texas; Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Columbia University; Department of History, Northern Illinois University; Bavarian American Academy, Munich; Department of Literature, University of California, San Diego; Visual Culture Workshop, University of Michigan; Department of English, University of Kentucky; Photofolks Working Group, Toronto; University of Illinois, Chicago; Department of English, University of Missouri; American Studies Department, Rutgers University; College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, Southern Illinois University; Gender in the Archive Workshop, University of Michigan; Interdisciplinary Nineteenth Century Studies Association; Cultural
Studies Association; Great Lakes American Studies Association; Visual Culture Center, University of Wisconsin; American Studies Department, Saint Louis University; Durham Centre for Advanced Photography Studies, Hatfield College, University of Durham, England; and Maine Women Writers Collection, University of New England. For these conversations I would especially like to thank Jeff Clymer, Elspeth Brown, Susan Griffin, Ellen Rosenman, Erika Doss, Jill Casid, Cherise Smith, Martha Cutter, Anne Cheng, Caroline Levander, Jaafar Aksikas, Curtis Marez, Saidiya Hartman, Heide Fehrenbach, Christof Decker, Volker Depkat, Michael Davidson, David Serlin, Sara Blair, Matthew Mancini, Susanne Wiedemann, Andrea Noble, Jonathan Long, Edward Welch, and Jennifer Tuttle. Chapter 1 was originally published in Photography: Theoretical Snapshots, edited by Jonathan Long, Andrea Noble, and Edward Welch (London: Routledge, 2009), 98–111, and reprinted in Photography Degree Zero, edited by Geoffrey Batchen (Cambridge: mit Press, 2009), 243–58. An earlier version of chapter 5 was first published in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 26, no. 2 (2009): 346–69, and reprinted in an extended version in American Photography, edited by Bettina Gockel in collaboration with Patrizia Munforte (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2012). An earlier version of chapter 6 was published in Visual Cultures—Transatlantic Perspectives, edited by Volker Depkat (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2012). Chapter 7 was originally published in Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art 20 (2006): 72–85. I am grateful to all for permission to reprint these pieces here. I am amazed by the rigor and brilliance of the women in my writing group, Jennifer Cole, Judy Farquhar, and Maud Ellman, and indebted to them for reading almost every piece of this book. Sharon Sliwinski helped me sort out the introduction and imagine the next project, and Patrick Rivers, Kai Mah, and Maud Lavin offered insightful comments on one of the chapters. I have had the pleasure of working with wonderful students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; their work and critical conversations are a constant source of inspiration. Several colleagues and friends close to home have helped make the whole thing worthwhile: Kym Pinder, Amy Mooney, Patrick Rivers, Kai Mah, Geof Bradfield, Mark Caughey, Kelly McKaig, Bruce Riley, Romi Crawford, Jim Elkins, Margaret MacNamidhe, Sara Levine, Chris Gaggero, and Terri Kapsalis—thank you. And one more round for Kym, Amy, and Romi and the writing group that wasn’t.
xvi — Acknowledgments
It has been a pleasure and a thrill to work with Ken Wissoker. He helped frame the book in important ways, and I am grateful for his wisdom and guidance throughout the review process. I would also like to thank Jade Brooks for her patience in answering countless questions. I am indebted to my family for their unwavering support and for pulling me away from time to time just for fun: thank you Sandy, Jay, and Shannon Smith, Derek Hutchinson, Haley, and Dylan. My deepest gratitude goes to Joe Masco, who cared for this project all along the way. He could see it even when I couldn’t, and this book, like so many things, is for him.
Acknowledgments — xvii
The “first photograph” is hard to see. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s pewter plate, produced in 1826, presents an almost indiscernible deep blue shadow. The artifact is on permanent display at the Harry Ransom Center (hrc), at the University of Texas, Austin, and although historians of photography have disputed the hrc’s claim to the first photograph, the plate is, without doubt, one of the earliest extant photographic images, a remarkable survivor from a period of experimentation and innovation. If not the first, it is certainly one of the first. And Niépce’s plate serves a discussion of beginnings well because the elaborate manner in which the hrc has displayed it spectacularly announces a desire for firsts (see plate 1).Visitors to the hrc cannot miss Niépce’s plate. The museum has housed it in its own small viewing room, an ornate modern shrine. There, alone in the darkened room, behind Plexiglas, illuminated from above, sits the first photograph, displayed in an ornamental gold frame. The excess of “aura” produced around the artifact is remarkable. It is presented as a kind of religious relic. I recently made a trip to see this photograph. As I entered the theatrically staged room, a docent darted in after me and proceeded to entertain me with stories about the making and provenance of the photograph, about how it was acquired and transported to the hrc, about how an expert technician maintains the atmosphere of inert gas in which the photograph is encased. As he spoke, I stooped and shifted until I could just barely discern the image I knew to look for, a view from the upper- story window of Niépce’s studio in his country house, Le Gras, in Saint- Loup- de- Varennes, France. The photo-
graph shows, through a dense atmospheric haze, several architectural shapes—walls and towers and pitched roofs. The geometric forms are stretched at sharp angles, and a trapezoidal roof seems to float, unmoored in the center of the frame. Historians of photography have named these dim shapes: “The picture is framed on the left by the loft of his [Niépce’s] pigeon house and on the right by a wing of the house. In the center is the sloping roof of a barn, with the top of a pear tree rising above it.”1 Perhaps paradoxically, however, all of this is much easier to see in a copy—the copy photograph Helmut Gernsheim commissioned from the research laboratory of the Eastman Kodak Company in the mid- twentieth century.2 Or perhaps the fact that a copy is more legible than the original forecasts the future of photography and epitomizes its nature superbly.3 Niépce called his photograph a “heliograph,” the writing of the sun. He made the image on a pewter plate 16.5 centimeters tall by 20.5 centimeters wide and coated with bitumen of Judea, which he exposed for eight hours in a camera with a biconvex lens. He then washed the plate with oil of lavender and petroleum to remove the bitumen not hardened by light.4 What remained fixed to the plate, traced in bitumen on pewter, is the view from his studio window, the view that Niépce must have spent long hours contemplating during the years of his work and experimentation. The image overtly registers the photographer’s point of view, and while all photographs might be said to do so, Niépce’s photograph inscribes his habitual vantage on the world from the very place in which he conjured photography. What is most visibly on display in the hrc’s presentation of the plate is a longing for origins, a desire to claim possession of the first photograph. And, oddly enough, what is perhaps least visible is the image inscribed on the plate itself. If, as Walter Benjamin has suggested, a “fog” “surrounds the beginnings of photography,” obscuring its early history, Niépce’s hazy image seems an appropriate manifestation and metaphor for the origins of the medium.5 Once again, this first photograph is hard to see. Niépce’s plate, and its elaborate framing, unwittingly highlight the limitations of photography even as they herald its beginnings. I am interested in this faulty start because it underscores, at the very heart of photography, both an intense desire, and a failure, to see.6 Most early photographers and commentators marveled at how much photographs did visually record—at how much could be seen in photographs, and how much more, in fact, than was normally seen with the
2 — Introduction
naked human eye. The British inventor William Henry Fox Talbot celebrated the camera’s visual prosthetics even though many of his own extant prints are extraordinarily hard to see. In the 1840s, Talbot devised a reproducible, negative-positive printing technique, ushering in the form of photography that would dominate its later history, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The hrc boasts a number of Talbot’s early salt prints made from calotype negatives, as well as his famous publication, The Pencil of Nature, the first photo-illustrated book. After viewing Niépce’s heliograph, I made my way upstairs to the hrc’s extensive photography archive to examine Talbot’s work from the 1840s. There I was sequestered in a separate, darkened room so that I might “see” the prints without damaging them. Talbot’s salt prints are mysterious and compelling, their stealth enhanced by the literal twilight in which they must be examined. They are extremely faded, barely visible stains of deep purple- blue and amber on yellowed paper.7 It is as if after a century and a half the prints are releasing their images, allowing them to evaporate. Or perhaps they are hoarding the images, permitting them to sink into the paper entirely. Viewing the prints in the dark, one waits for the images to emerge, to gather and deliver themselves into focus. One looks hard, and it is as if the subtle traces of shade and form must first imprint themselves on the retina before they can be seen.8 The faint impressions give one an intense desire to see them, to recapture their fleeting images. The twenty- four photographic plates included in The Pencil of Nature are much more clearly legible. The images include architectural studies, photographs of statuary, collections of china, glass, and books, scenes from everyday life, copies of prints and text, and contact photographs “directly taken” from lace and leaf, along with accompanying discussions that showcase the technological capabilities of photography. Talbot celebrates the wide range of photography’s potential applications—its capacity to catalogue objects and to aid in genealogical inquiries, its ability to reproduce and alter the scale of texts and other artworks, and to record “scenes of daily and familiar occurrence.”9 Talbot was astonished by the detail recorded in his images, and recommended viewing them with a magnifying glass in order to discover their minutiae: This magnifies the objects two or three times, and often discloses a multitude of minute details, which were previously unobserved and
First Photographs — 3
unsuspected. It frequently happens, moreover—and this is one of the charms of photography—that the operator himself discovers on examination, perhaps long afterwards, that he has depicted many things he had no notion of at the time. Sometimes inscriptions and dates are found upon the buildings, or printed placards most irrelevant, are discovered upon their walls: sometimes a distant dial- plate is seen, and upon it— unconsciously recorded—the hour of the day at which the view was taken. Plate 13, depicting the entrance gateway to Queen’s College, Oxford, to which this discussion corresponds, does in fact show a clock tower visible in the background, with the time of 2:10 stilled on its face (see introduction figure 1).10 Talbot’s enthusiasm for details “unconsciously recorded” in a photograph resonates powerfully with what Walter Benjamin would later call the “optical unconscious.” Describing the optical unconscious as one of photography’s revelations, Benjamin seized on photography’s ability to make visible what usually evades perception. With “the dynamite of the tenth of a second,” and the expansion of the close- up, photography revolutionized seeing, making new worlds visible beyond the limits of natural human sight.11 Just as Talbot celebrated the extraordinary detail photographs disclosed when examined with a magnifying glass, Benjamin also marveled at photography’s prosthetic powers: “The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject.”12 He thus followed photography’s early commentators, nearly a century later, in highlighting photography’s revelatory capabilities.13 But Benjamin’s provocative term, the “optical unconscious,” also underscores the sense that we inhabit a world only ever partially perceived. For Benjamin, photography does not simply disclose elements previously “unobserved,” it also reveals things that never could be seen with the unaided human eye.14 “Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye—if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored.”15 As photography shows us more, it also shows us how much we don’t see, how much of ordinary seeing is blind.16 The optical unconscious introduced by photography is a deeply uncanny sensibility, then—it is the revelation and recognition that we inhabit a world unseen.
4 — Introduction
Figure Intr0.1 William Henry Fox Talbot, Queen’s College, Oxford, Entrance Gateway, plate 13 from The Pencil of Nature (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1844).
As Rosalind Krauss has argued in The Optical Unconscious, Benjamin’s articulation of the optical unconscious does not make sense in Freudian terms. For Benjamin, the camera is a kind of prosthesis, “an instrument that enlarges vision,” increasing one’s grasp of the material world. But, as Krauss notes, Freud “is clear that the world over which technical devices extend their power is not one that could, itself, have an unconscious.”17 She parts ways with Benjamin, then, in order to pursue the unconscious “as externalized within the visual field” by a group of artists.18 Krauss is interested first and foremost in the unconscious, and in how artists engage the unconscious, and only secondarily preoccupied with the projection of the unconscious in the realm of the visual. In my engagement of the phrase “the optical unconscious,” I return to Benjamin and to photography. I am interested in the optical side of this equation, in the new frontiers of vision that photography introduced, in the visual world over which the camera extends its power, the visual world that does not, itself, have an unconFirst Photographs — 5
scious. Photography expanded the realm of the visible, but it also exposed its limits, both physiological and technological. Enabling one to see more, it simultaneously demonstrated how little is ordinarily visible, giving one the unnerving sense of living in a world only partially perceived. Here, then, the optical unconscious is the recognition of ordinary blindness—the revelation of an unseen world that photography does not fully disclose, but makes us aware of it in its invisibility. Photography brings into view what Avery Gordon has called “a kind of visible invisibility.”19 It draws us to the edge of sight. Benjamin himself parts ways with Freud in the very gesture in which he invokes the unconscious to explain the camera’s technological reach. He differentiates what he calls the “optical unconscious” from what he deems Freud’s “instinctual unconscious” by setting them up as parallel but different structures: “It is through photography that we first discover the existence of this optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis.”20 If psychoanalysis discovers the (instinctual) unconscious, a psychic process the conscious mind cannot know, photography discovers the optical unconscious, a visual dynamic the eye cannot see. As the (instinctual) unconscious remains unknown, so the optical unconscious remains unseen. Just as Freud took recourse in visual metaphors to explain the unconscious, Benjamin borrowed the language of psychoanalysis to explain the unseen that photography makes us aware of in its invisibility.21 In my own gestures toward that invisible realm, I will choose less psychoanalytically laden terms to describe the sense of the unseen that photography introduces, in order ultimately to maintain the distinctions Benjamin (and Krauss) recognize between the (instinctual) unconscious and the optical unconscious. Siegfried Kracauer also proposed that one of photography’s (and film’s) most striking characteristics is its capacity to “reveal things normally unseen.”22 Such things include “the small and the big,” “the transient,” and, most compellingly, “blind spots of the mind.”23 For Kracauer, as for Benjamin, the camera discloses details and captures motion that the unaided eye cannot see, making one newly aware of hidden worlds. But Kracauer’s blind spots of the mind also include those things that “habit and prejudice prevent us from noticing.”24 In other words, blind spots of the mind are the cultural, not simply physical, bars to seeing that photography exposes. The camera reveals in such blind spots “unconventional complexes,” which ordinarily go unnoticed, “the refuse,” and “the famil6 — Introduction
iar,” or what one knows “by heart and therefore not by sight.25 As Miriam Hansen has argued, Kracauer turns to photography not only for its capacity to visually record the world, but also for its ability to denaturalize the world we normally see: “If Kracauer seeks to ground his film aesthetics in the medium of photography, it is because photographic representation has the perplexing ability not only to resemble the world it depicts but also to render it strange, to destroy habitual fictions of self- identity and familiarity.”26 The camera enables one to see the ordinary and the extraordinary. It can pursue “phenomena overwhelming consciousness,” such as “the atrocities of war, acts of violence and terror,” and “special modes of reality,” as perceived by “individuals in extreme states of mind.”27 The camera sees beyond the physical and the cultural limitations of sight. In pushing beyond and revealing new limits to human sight, photography also demonstrated that vision itself was not a stable, but a shifting capacity, technologically, culturally, and historically determined. Indeed, as Jonathan Crary has argued powerfully, by the time of photography’s advent, in the early nineteenth century, vision itself had undergone a profound reconceptualization in the Western world. No longer the elevated, abstracted capacity of an observer separated from the visual field, as exemplified by the camera obscura, vision was newly understood to be an embodied, physiological process.28 What I aim to describe here, following Benjamin and Crary, is a further destabilization of vision, a historically new recognition of limitations, failures, and blind spots in seeing that photography as a visual technology paradoxically introduced. As Martin Jay proclaims, “The invention of the camera” was “the most extraordinary technical innovation in vision during the nineteenth century, indeed perhaps in all of human history,” and photographs incontestably expanded “the range of human visual experience” in extraordinary ways. However, the invention of the camera also helped “undermine confidence in the authority of the eyes.”29 As Benjamin’s description of the optical unconscious suggests, the viewer posited by photography was made newly aware not only of new visual realms, but also of all one could not, and did not, see. My understanding of vision as a physiological process, of seeing and sight, is also always that of what Hal Foster has deemed “visuality,” of “sight as a social fact.”30 In concert with scholars of visual culture, my analysis participates in the critical work that W. J. T. Mitchell describes as “showing seeing,” but it attempts to show “not seeing” as well, and specifically to explore the dynamics of seeing and not seeing introduced by photography.31
First Photographs — 7
Questions about seeing readily open onto larger philosophical discussions about the nature of knowing, and even being, but my ambitions in this book are more discreetly focused. I am interested in how such questions, introduced by photography, subsequently invite us to look differently at photographs as historical and cultural artifacts. What resides at the literal and metaphorical edge of the photograph? What remains just outside the frame? What cannot be seen because the photographer does not focus on it? What cannot be seen because cultural discourses and habits of thought obscure it? What simply does not register photographically? Photography revolutionized perception, making the invisible visible. But as it enlarged the visual world, bringing new things into sight, it also demonstrated how much ordinarily remains imperceptible. In other words, photography revealed the limitations of human sight even as it offered its prosthetic compensation. Further, as it extended the realm of the visible, photography also suggested that some things would remain forever out of sight. Just as vision is not endlessly expandable, photography has its own limitations. The exposure photography proffers is the recognition of a world paradoxically visible in its invisibility. Photography brushes against the unseen, and photographs bring us to the edge of sight.
The Spirit of Photography
No photographic genre better manifests a desire to see beyond the limits of natural human sight than spirit photography. Spirit photographs purport to document an occult world inaccessible to human senses. Metaphor and material at once, these photographs epitomize the uncanny sensibility of the optical unconscious. In the nineteenth century, spirit photographers seized upon the idea that the camera could capture worlds beyond sight, and they purported to mechanically reveal what the eye alone could not see. But these entrepreneurs did not limit themselves to the material world; instead, they expanded the idea of photography’s revelatory powers to the spiritual realm of the dead. If photography demonstrated that the camera could “see” and record what the human eye could not, spirit photography proposed that the camera could see and record other things hidden from natural sight, such as ghosts and spirits (see introduction figure 2).32 Interest in spirit photography was widely encouraged by the advent and spread of Spiritualism in the United States and Europe in the mid-
8 — Introduction
Figure Intr0.2 William H. Mumler, John J. Glover, 1862–75. Albumen silver print, 9.5 × 5.7 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
nineteenth century.33 Belief in ghosts and spirits was nothing new; what distinguished Spiritualism was an attempt to prove the existence of spirits through observable, verifiable, scientific means. Spiritualists did not relegate ghosts to the supernatural, but instead counted them part of the natural world and aimed to make communication with spirits “a matter of empirical scientific investigation.”34 As their aim was to verify the presence of spirits, Spiritualists concentrated their efforts on spirit manifestations, focused around a medium. Manifestations were thought to provide evidence of spirit existence through rapping, automatic writing, possession, and the transportation of objects.35 From its beginnings, in 1848, with the revelations of the Fox sisters, who proclaimed they could communicate with spirits through rapping, Spiritualism was dominated by auditory communication between mediums and the spirit world, as spirits communicated with the living via sound, through knocking and speech. Spiritualists believed that spirits literally communicated through mediums, inhabiting the bodies and commanding the voices of receptive young women to speak to the living.36 However, according to the historian Molly McGarry, by the 1870s a “second wave of Spiritualism” marked “a shift from sound to vision . . . paralleling new developments in photography.”37 Increasingly, spirits had to be seen to be believed, and séances in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth centered on the visual apparitions and traces of ghosts. The proof of spiritual presence was increasingly measured in visual terms, and photography was called upon to record evanescent spirit appearances signaled through the bodily discharges of mediums. While photographs of mediums were designed to record the ephemeral but visible residues of spiritual contact marked on the medium’s body, spirit photographs suggested that the camera and the photographic emulsion were themselves “mediums” through which spirits manifested themselves. Unlike “documentary” photographs of mediums and séances, spirit photographs constituted a distinct genre of studio portraiture, in which sitters were “visited” by the spirits of the dead, made visible in portraits as wispy white specters. Spirit photographers did not proclaim to see ghosts themselves, nor did they suggest that clients would be able to see ghosts in their studios. Instead, they proposed that the camera could capture and impress onto sensitive photographic emulsion traces of beings that could not be seen by the human eye. Like photography’s early commentators, and Benjamin later, they argued that the camera and photograph could
10 — Introduction
capture more than the naked eye could see, simply extending such claims beyond the natural world, to suggest that the camera opened onto a supernatural realm. In 1861, William H. Mumler began to make spirit photographs in Boston with the help of his clairvoyant wife, Hannah.38 Enthusiastic clients sat for portraits in his studio and received images of themselves with a spirit “extra.”39 At first glance, Mumler’s spirit photographs appear to be rather conventional carte- de- visite or cabinet card portraits. They present men and women posed in front of a plain studio background, seated, photographed from the waist up, turned at an angle to the camera, and looking off to the side of the photographic frame. An unusually large expanse of space is left above or to the side of the seated individual, and upon closer inspection one sees that this space is occupied by the ghostly white shadow of another figure. In many of the images, this nearly transparent figure seems to lean in to embrace the more solid subject of the photograph (see plate 2). Mumler’s spirit photography generated a sizeable profit. Several years after he began his work in Boston he opened a studio in New York, near P. T. Barnum’s museum on lower Broadway. Demand for the images was so great that Mumler charged “ten dollars per sitting” “at a time when standard photographs were selling for about a quarter apiece.”40 Business went well until 1869, when Mumler was arrested and charged with fraud. The trial became a testing ground not only for spirit photography but also for Spiritualism.41 Photographers and Spiritualists alike testified at the trial, with most photographers weighing in for the prosecution, and Spiritualists witnessing for the defense. P. T. Barnum, an “expert” in trickery and a critic of spirit photography, was called to testify for the prosecution.42 The judge finally ruled in favor of Mumler, declaring that although he believed spirit photography was a fraud and deception, the prosecution had failed to make a convincing case.43 The press, which followed the trial closely, represented the judgment as a triumph for Spiritualists and even for spirits themselves.44 Not all spirit photographers fared as well as Mumler in the courts. Nevertheless, the will to believe in spirit photography remained powerful. Even after the famous French spirit photographer Édouard Isidore Buguet was convicted of fraud, and exposed the process of his deception in court by describing how he made his images, many of his clients persisted in proclaiming the veracity of his spirit photographs.45 After his conviction,
First Photographs — 11
Buguet reopened shop as an “anti- spirit” photographer and employed the same techniques to produce the same kind of images for the amusement of a new clientele.46 For the consumers of antispirit photographs, veracity was not what made spirit photographs interesting; instead, they appreciated the images as pure entertainment, enjoying the performative hoax, and taking pleasure in the trick. Other nonbelieving enthusiasts embraced spirit photographs as memento mori, using them to remember the dead and to express their own continued bonds of affection for and devotion to the departed.47 One did not need to believe in the actual appearance of spirits on film to see in spirit photographs a register of the felt presence of absent loved ones. The representation, rather than record, of spiritual presence was a kind of comfort in itself.48 To twenty-first-century eyes, the trick of double exposure seems so obvious that it is hard to imagine anyone ever believed spirit photographs actually registered the presence of spirits. However, through an interesting acrobatics of logic, some Spiritualists were able to account for double exposures as the techniques of spirits rather than the deception of photographers. They argued that the departed used photographs of their former selves to communicate with the living in a recognizable form. As Tom Gunning explains, Dr. Alfred Russell Wallace, a prominent Spiritualist, declared that a spirit photograph should not be taken as a representation of a spirit per se, but rather as “ a reproduction of the former mortal form with its terrestrial accompaniments for the purpose of recognition. ” 49 In other words, a spirit photograph could not be considered representative in the usual way. It did not record a spirit, but instead reproduced the once recognizable image of a now invisible presence. If a disembodied spirit could no longer use the body as a communicative medium, it could use the image of its formerly embodied self, a kind of afterimage, to communicate with the living. In this context, Mumler’s photographs of spirits communing with photographs of clients are particularly compelling. In one image, Mr. Chapin Oil Merchant—& His Spirit Wife & Babe Recognized, a small dark table protrudes into the photographic frame, its decoratively carved underside standing out in relief against a cloudy gray background (see introduction figure 3). At the edge of the table, a small statuette of a boy appears to hold an ornately framed photographic portrait of a man in a top hat. The center of the larger photographic frame is dominated by an ethereal white
12 — Introduction
Figure Intr0.3 William H. Mumler, Mr. Chapin Oil Merchant—& His Spirit Wife & Babe Recognized, 1862–75. Albumen silver print, no size given. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
image of a woman holding an infant. Both are draped in white robes that dissolve into the mist at the bottom of the image. The woman and infant seem to lean toward and gaze lovingly upon the small portrait on the table. According to Molly McGarry, “When clients were unable to come in person to his studio, Mumler asked that they send photographs of themselves to be photographed.”50 Such doubled images suggest that communication takes place between images, in representation, through a trading of visual signs. If spirits used images of themselves to communicate with the living, the living might also use images of themselves to communicate with the dead. Presence could be marked by an image of images, and communication could happen through the circulation of shared signs. Spirit photography underlines the uncanny nature of the optical unconscious, highlighting the unnerving sense that we live in a world unseen. This historical practice exaggerates and exemplifies the ways photographers grasp at the invisible—at what is absent, past, ephemeral, eclipsed. Photographs reside at the brink of the visible world, drawing into awareness what lies beyond.
The Visibility and Invisibility of Race
As photographs bring more into view, they also reinforce the invisibility of some things by overtly focusing on others. What is not represented is further obscured. And in any case there is no guarantee that what is captured photographically will actually be seen, because, as Kracauer reminds us, seeing is shaped by cultural forces and the psychic reflexes of viewers. As Irit Rogoff has argued, looking and seeing are always culturally circumscribed: “What the eye purportedly ‘sees’ is dictated to it by an entire set of beliefs and desires.”51 Willful repressions and unwitting blind spots, both personal and collective, limit what can and can’t be seen. In the United States, race has been one of the cultural inscriptions most defined by a dynamic of revelation and obfuscation, of hypervisibility and invisibility. As many scholars have argued, blackness has been misrecognized in the spectacles of white fantasy, and whiteness has often existed in privileged invisibility.52 Indeed, whiteness emerges as a racial category most forcefully when one sees what is ordinarily obscured. As Richard Dyer has argued, whiteness is a cultural category veiled from “ordinary” sight that emerges as one recognizes the obfuscating power of normativity.
14 — Introduction
Figure Intr0.4 William Henry Fox Talbot, Bust of Patroclus, plate 5 from The Pencil of Nature (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1844).
Dyer has demonstrated that photographic technologies were developed to secure idealized representations of whiteness; film and lighting were gauged and adapted to register the white face.53 Even Talbot, in 1844, noted that white objects make especially felicitous subjects for the “new art” of photography. He devotes two of twenty- four plates in The Pencil of Nature to alternate views of a bust of Patroclus, stating, “Statues, busts, and other specimens of sculpture, are generally well represented by the Photographic Art; and also very rapidly, in consequence of their whiteness”54 (see introduction figure 4). White things reflect light more readily than dark things, and therefore they require shorter exposure times, a matter of some import to photography’s early practitioners. From the beginnings of photography,
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then, white objects were sought- after subjects that seemed to naturally accord with the new technology. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the literal whiteness of material objects blurred into the cultural whiteness of subjects, as photography played a central role in establishing race as a cultural identity that could be seen in new ways. As scientists made race observable in bodies of color, using photography to encode and inscribe race in physiognomy and physiology, commercial studio photographers made the whiteness of their primary subjects simply pass unnoticed as “normal” and “natural.” The practices of race scientists and commercial studio photographers converged to distinguish blackness from whiteness, making one increasingly visible as “race” and the other increasingly invisible as “race.”55 As portraits of white people became ubiquitous, whiteness itself paradoxically faded from view, into the cultural blind spot of normativity. Whiteness is therefore part of photography’s revelation of the invisible, and whiteness emerges into and recedes from sight in a wide range of photographs.
At the Edge of Sight engages the dynamics of seeing and not seeing, of seeing the unseen, and of seeing that we don’t see that photography sets forth. This book does not aim to establish a method exactly, but a means of approach, a sensibility toward the revelations and limitations of photography. Each chapter studies a different manifestation of photography’s brush with the unseen: the punctum, desire, the space between frames, the foreground blurred by velocity, nostalgia, the civil contract, and cultural repression. Most of the chapters focus on early American photographers and their work across the domains of scientific, artistic, and commercial photography. This diverse group, including F. Holland Day, Eadweard Muybridge, Andrew J. Russell, Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, and Augustus Washington, showcases the multiplicity of photographic practice in the United States in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth. This book begins with a close reading of one of the most influential texts in the study of photography, Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. Chapter 1 focuses on Barthes’s perplexing attempts to define what he calls the punctum, an element in a photograph that launches the viewer beyond the photograph itself. Barthes declares that the punctum is inaccessible to analysis, but a careful reading of his text suggests that his own inexplicable
16 — Introduction
responses to photographs are informed by deep- seated cultural anxieties about race and sexuality. The cultural knowledge of the studium informs his punctum responses, and race and reproduction emerge as Barthes’s own blind spots. Chapter 2 expands upon the themes of race and sexuality introduced in the discussion of Camera Lucida by turning to F. Holland Day’s pictorialist photography. The chapter proposes that Day’s pictorial aesthetics unsettle photographic denotation, extending the bounds of photographic representation beyond the material world. With symbolism and soft focus, Day manipulated photographic indexicality in order to represent ineffable desire. He embraced photography to see beyond the visible world. Reading closely Day’s extraordinary work at the turn of the twentieth century, including his self-crucifixion photographs, the Orpheus series, and his black male nudes, I argue that Day used pictorial aesthetics to reframe bodies captured by scientific discourses. Ultimately Day’s photographs challenge scientific visual authority and encode a subjective homoerotic desire. Race and sexuality, as well as science and art, continue to be overt themes in chapter 3, which focuses on Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic motion studies. Here the “space between” photographic frames operates as the central metaphor, and what is not seen in the images becomes as important as what is. Notable among the things not seen in Muybridge’s motion studies is motion itself—it can only be inferred in the space between frames. As those spaces demand interpretation, as they require filling in, so too do they invite leaps of imagination. This chapter accepts that invitation and experiments in imagining other things that are not visible in the photographs, such as the thoughts and perspective of one of Muybridge’s models. Photography intersected with other technologies of perception in the nineteenth century, and chapter 4 explores its connection to the train. Most obviously a means of transportation, the train was also a viewing apparatus that introduced new forms of perception. The train initiated a new kind of distant panoramic vision, but as it did so it also made it impossible to see what was close at hand, rushing by at great speeds. It relegated the foreground to invisibility. This chapter examines the photographs that preceded the train, making visible the view along the tracks that the train would soon obliterate. It studies Andrew J. Russell’s photographs of the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, looking at the views that made
First Photographs — 17
way for the train, as well as the cultural blind spots created by that visual mapping. Even as Russell’s photographs revealed what the train obscured, they also performed their own obfuscations. Chansonetta Stanley Emmons also photographed views obscured by industrial progress. With a nostalgic impulse she re-created pastoral scenes long outmoded by the early twentieth century. Her photographs perform temporal disruptions, staging pictures of the past, and thereby present subjects doubly removed in time. Chapter 5 examines Emmons’s nostalgic, agrarian visions, showing how her photographs of rural life made claims on a racialized American heritage rooted in the land. Emmons idealized the Northern family farm, and she used its image to measure the exploitation of tenant farming in the South. In her efforts to stage an agrarian ideal and critique tenant farming, Emmons also struggled against the limitations of photography and endeavored to expand the range of things the camera could make visible. As her nostalgic views troubled the temporality of the photograph, her lantern slides extended the camera’s visual compass. Ultimately, Emmons sought to make visible a distinctly American mythology of an idealized, agrarian past. Photography’s role in national imaginings is amplified through a study of Augustus Washington’s American and Liberian daguerreotypes from the mid- nineteenth century. Beginning with Washington’s striking portrait of John Brown, chapter 6 considers the encounter between subject and photographer and the civil contract forged between them. It argues that Washington employed daguerreotypy to represent self-possession, the racialized foundation of state- recognized citizenship. His daguerreotypes perform citizenship; they become sites through which national identity can be both imagined and claimed. Whereas Emmons looked backward to envision a national ideal, Washington looked forward, using daguerreotypy to foresee a nation yet to come. His images grasp at the invisible, struggling to manifest new social contracts. Finally, his images make palpable photography’s own blind spot, calling on us to recognize the photographer behind his camera, to perceive the invisible conjurer of subjects and nations. The final chapter brings many of the themes studied in this book into the near present. It takes as its subject the grim digital photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, and tries to understand the power of their unprecedented dispersal. The chapter argues that part of their disruptive force was due to the way they seemed to recall what was repressed, to reproduce culturally suppressed images of lynching from an Ameri18 — Introduction
can past. In the Abu Ghraib photographs, it was as if the ghosts of white women, in whose names lynching was condoned, had returned in distorted form in the figure of Pfc. Lynndie England. This final chapter ties together the threads of race, gender, sexuality, and national imaginings studied throughout the book and demonstrates how photography’s revelations and obfuscations can have disturbing political import. At the Edge of Sight explores the promise and limitations of photography, its capacity to make the invisible visible and to reveal what we don’t see. The book aims to keep photography’s revelatory powers in focus, while also attending to its blind spots. Interspersed throughout the text are visual pauses that present my own photographic work, engaging indirectly questions and strategies examined explicitly in the chapters. These visual focal points are not meant to illustrate theory, but to function as theoretical propositions themselves. In many ways my visual practice follows that of photography’s early commentators. I seize upon the details recorded in photographs, enlarging them and making visible what lies at the limits of natural sight. Further, I try to capture the uncanny sense of living in a world unseen that photography impresses upon us. The details at the edges of photographs are shadows that hover on the brink of invisibility; they are nearly indiscernible peripheral forms that haunt our vision. This visual work is another way I have pursued photography’s revelation of the unseen, by variously focusing on the extraordinary or extraneous detail, reanimating stilled time, exploring the intersection of photography with other technologies, and teasing out the cultural discourses that enable and inhibit seeing. Ultimately, this work is my attempt to understand photography through photography, to follow its directives and clues to seeing what resides at the edge of sight.
First Photographs — 19
1. Geoffrey Batchen, Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 1997), 125. 2. Information about the first photograph can be found on the Harry Ransom Center website. Accessed August 5, 2010. http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/per manent/wfp/. 3. According to Batchen, Gernsheim retouched the copy photograph with watercolor so that it finally resembled his own drawing based on the image. “The much touted first photograph turns out to be a representation of a representation.” “It seems that wherever we look for photography’s bottom line, we face this strange economy of deferral, an origin always preceded by another, more original, but never- quite- present photographic instance.” Batchen, Burning with Desire, 127. 4. Batchen, Burning with Desire, 123–25. 5. Walter Benjamin, “A Small History of Photography,” One- Way Street and Other Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (London: New Left Books, 1979): 240–57, 240. 6. Niépce’s plate is my own “failed photographic window,” like James Elkins’s “trinity” of “selenite, ice, salt” (34), which he uses as “three models of photography . . . that evoke photography’s inadequacy at clearly representing the world” (212). He offers these three “failed looks into or through something” (34) in order to reject the presumption of photographic transparency and to refocus thoughts on the opaque materiality of the photograph itself. These are his images of “imperfect visibility” (28) and “stunted seeing” (20); they are reminders that “something cannot be seen” (34). James Elkins, What Photography Is (New York: Routledge, 2011). 7. Calotypes are paper negatives, sometimes soaked in wax to make them transparent, which are then printed on paper. 8. Talbot himself suggests that “the sensitive paper may be compared to the retina”
in his discussion of plate 3 in The Pencil of Nature. William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1844). 9. Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 25. As Geoffrey Batchen has argued, “Talbot had no one subject in mind as the principal pictorial aspiration of photography.” Instead, he was “anxious to promote the infinite variety of possible uses to which photography could be put.” Batchen, Burning with Desire, 149. For an extensive and beautiful survey of Talbot’s photography see Geoffrey Batchen, William Henry Fox Talbot (London: Phaidon, 2008). 10. Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 40. According to Jennifer Tucker, “This, for many, was the pleasure of photography and the source of its documentary power: things that the observer did not see at the time might be discovered later in a photograph. However, the presence of incidentals also revealed that the instrument was only partially under the operator’s control.” Tucker, Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 19. As Christopher Pinney has argued, “However hard the photographer tries to exclude, the camera lens always includes.” “No matter how precautionary and punctilious the photographer is in arranging everything that is placed before the camera, the lens’s inability to discriminate will ensure a substrate or margin of excess.” Pinney, The Coming of Photography in India (London: British Library, 2008), 4. See also Pinney, “Introduction: ‘How the Other Half . . . ,’ ” in Photography’s Other Histories, eds. Christopher Pinney and Nicolas Peterson (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003) 1–14, 6–7. In his discussion of the accidental details recorded in photographs, Robin Kelsey argues that Talbot’s interest in the clock face is an effort both to highlight chance in photographic representation and “to salvage signification from the noise of the arbitrary” by emphasizing “decipherable” marks (“notations or measurements”). Kelsey, “Photography, Chance, and The Pencil of Nature,” The Meaning of Photography, eds. Robin Kelsey and Blake Stimson (Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2008), 15–33, 24. For Elizabeth Abel, the disruptive potential of the photograph is precisely its ability to exceed and subvert other sign systems, especially language. As she argues, “The camera resists the power of the word to delineate the contours of the world.” Abel, Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 78. According to Jennifer Green- Lewis, Talbot was particularly fond of “details of age and decay,” which drew “attention to the visibility of time itself ” in photographs. Green-Lewis, “ ‘Already the Past’: The Backward Glance of Victorian Photography,” English Language Notes 44, no. 2 (fall/winter 2006): 25–43, 31. Batchen goes even further: “Talbot concluded that the primary subject of every photograph was . . . time itself.” Batchen, Burning with Desire, 93. 11. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 218 — Notes
Illuminations, ed. and intro. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969), 217–51, 236. 12. Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 236. 13. A beautifully illustrated catalog produced by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with an exhibition examines nineteenth-century scientific photography of the invisible. See especially Corey Keller’s essay “Sight Unseen: Picturing the Invisible,” in Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840– 1900, ed. Corey Keller (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2008), 19–35. As Keller argues, “Paired with the microscope and the telescope, photography contributed to a compelling body of visual evidence of worlds that existed beneath the threshold of human perception” (28). In his discussion of Talbot’s nineteenth- century “natural magic,” Douglas Nickel quotes Sir David Brewster, Talbot’s friend and colleague, who enthused about photography’s revelatory powers: “The photographer presents to Nature an artificial eye, more powerful than his own. . . . He thus gives permanency to details which the eye itself is too dull to appreciate.” Sir David Brewster, quoted in Douglas R. Nickel, “Talbot’s Natural Magic,” History of Photography 26, no. 2 (summer 2002): 132–40, 136. 14. Benjamin uses this exact term in “A Small History of Photography.” Walter Benjamin, “A Small History of Photography,” 243. 15. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 236. Christopher Pinney has argued: “Just as one might apply a microscope to images and reveal what the human eye itself could not see, so there was also a palpable sense that photographic scrutiny might be able to reach other domains as yet unexplored, creating what Walter Benjamin called the ‘optical unconscious.’ ” Pinney, The Coming of Photography in India, 22. My discussion of spirit photography below pursues a similar line of inquiry, examining photographs that purported to show just such “other domains as yet unexplored.” 16. As James Elkins has said, “Blindness also happens alongside seeing—that is, it happens while we are seeing” (205), and such blindness is both physiological and psychological (219). Further, as neurobiology has revealed, “a large part of vision is not available to the conscious mind” (222). James Elkins, The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996). 17. Rosalind E. Krauss, The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 1993), 179. 18. Krauss, The Optical Unconscious, 179–80. 19. Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 16. 20. Walter Benjamin, “A Small History of Photography,” 243, emphasis added. As James Elkins has argued, “In a literal reading, confined to just the one sentence, ‘optical unconscious’ isn’t about psychoanalysis. It’s a parallel: just as the ‘instincNotes — 219
tual unconscious’ was revealed by psychoanalysis, so this ‘optical unconscious’ of tiny and ephemeral forms was revealed by the camera.” James Elkins, What Photography Is, 217. 21. As Kaja Silverman has said of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, “The model of the psyche to which that work is committed is at every point a visual model.” Silverman, World Spectators (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 84. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. Joyce Crick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). 22. Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960), intro. Miriam Bratu Hansen (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 46. 23. Kracauer, Theory of Film, 46–59. 24. Kracauer, Theory of Film, 53. Kracauer’s expansion upon Benjamin’s “optical unconscious” is very much in accord with Benjamin’s larger critical project, which was to defamiliarize and denaturalize seeing and thinking. James Elkins has argued that “photography also always shows us things we would have preferred not to see, or don’t want to see, don’t know how to see, or don’t know how to acknowledge seeing.” What Photography Is, 98. See also p. 174. Elizabeth Abel has recently returned to the camera’s capacity to see beyond those things that “habit and prejudice prevent us from noticing” in her study of the visual culture of segregation in the United States. According to Abel, “Because the eye of the camera cannot overlook what the mind’s eye chooses not to see, it opens up a more democratic signifying field in which the repressed can have its say (or see).” Signs of the Times, 79. 25. Kracauer, Theory of Film, 53–57. 26. Miriam Bratu Hansen, introduction to Kracauer, Theory of Film, vii–xlv, xxv. It is Kracauer’s “photographic approach” to film in Theory of Film (1960) that, according to Hansen, links it to the historical materialism of his earlier Weimar work, including his essay on photography, published in 1927, in which photography emerges as thoroughly imbricated in the historical processes it records and exposes. Hansen, xxiv–xxv, xii–xiii. Siegfried Kracauer, “Photography,” in The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans., ed., intro. Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 47–63. 27. Kracauer, Theory of Film, 57–59. 28. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 1990). Douglas Nickel identifies a relocation of visual truth to the subjectivity of the viewer in photographic discourse in Peter Henry Emerson’s treatise Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1889). Douglas R. Nickel, “Photography and Invisibility,” in The Artist and the Camera: Degas to Picasso, ed. Dorothy Kosinski (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1999), 34–41, 37. 29. Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 124, 133, 135–36. 220 — Notes
30. Hal Foster, ed., Vision and Visuality (Seattle: Bay Press, 1988), ix. Nicholas Mirzoeff has recently defined “visuality” as a distinctly imperial terrain in which the right to look is circumscribed by colonial power relations. He nevertheless proposes that “countervisualities” can and do challenge such restrictive looking relations. Mirzoeff is right to politicize the terrain of visuality, but visuality “as a social fact” already suggests a site of conflict, of both colonial gazes and tactics of resistance, of the look and the look back. Mirzoeff, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011). 31. W. J. T. Mitchell, “Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture,” in What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 336–56. 32. Louis Kaplan and Jennifer Tucker make similar points in their respective studies: Kaplan, The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 9; and Tucker, Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 67–68. 33. Clément Chéroux, “Ghost Dialectics: Spirit Photography in Entertainment and Belief,” in The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, Clément Chéroux, Andreas Fischer, Pierre Apraxine, Denis Canguilhem, and Sophie Schmit (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 45–55. 34. R. Laurence Moore, “Spiritualism and Science: Reflections on the First Decade of Spirit Rappings,” American Quarterly 24, no. 4 (October 1972): 474–500, 481. 35. R. Laurence Moore, “Spiritualism and Science,” 482. 36. Such corporeal boundary crossing, with its potential for gender and racial mixing, made some observers extremely nervous. See Daphne Brooks’s discussion of Hiram Mattison’s Spirit Rapping Unveiled (1853). Brooks, Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850–1910 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 16–22. 37. Molly McGarry, Ghosts of Futures Past: Spiritualism and the Cultural Politics of Nineteenth-Century America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 101. See also Tom Gunning, “Phantom Images and Modern Manifestations: Spirit Photography, Magic Theater, Trick Films, and Photography’s Uncanny,” in Fugitive Images: From Photography to Video, ed. Patrice Petro (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 42–71, 51. 38. For further information about Mumler, see Louis Kaplan’s edited collection of primary source documents, and his historical and theoretical discussion of those documents in The Strange Case of William Mumler. 39. McGarry, Ghosts of Futures Past, 110. On “extras,” see also Tom Gunning, “Phantom Images and Modern Manifestations,” 51. 40. Crista Cloutier, “Mumler’s Ghosts,” in The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, Clément Chéroux, Andreas Fischer, and Pierre Apraxine, Denis Canguilhem, Sophie Schmit (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 21. Notes — 221
41. Cloutier, “Mumler’s Ghosts,” 22–23. 42. Cloutier, “Mumler’s Ghosts,” 22. 43. Cloutier, “Mumler’s Ghosts,” 22–23. 44. McGarry, Ghosts of Futures Past, 110. 45. Chéroux, “Ghost Dialectics,” 51. 46. Chéroux, “Ghost Dialectics,” 51–52. 47. Tom Gunning, “Phantom Images and Modern Manifestations,” 66. Jennifer Tucker also describes how spirit photographs were used in “social networks of consolation” (87). Tucker provides an extended analysis of spirit photography in England in chapter two of Nature Exposed, “Testing the Unity of Science and Fraternity,” 65–125. 48. As Geoffrey Batchen has argued, spirit photographs ultimately were not about the dead, but about the living, representing the labor and time of mourning. Like other memorial photographs in the nineteenth century, spirit photographs functioned as time machines through which the living could transport the dead symbolically into their own time and space. Geoffrey Batchen, Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004). Louis Kaplan similarly suggests that spirit photographs functioned as transitional objects in the work of mourning. Kaplan, The Strange Case of William Mumler, 231–32. 49. Wallace, quoted in Glendinning, quoted in Tom Gunning, “Phantom Images and Modern Manifestations,” 66. Andrew Glendinning, ed., The Veil Lifted: Modern Developments of Spirit Photography (London: Whitaker, 1894), 126. 50. McGarry, Ghosts of Futures Past, 112. 51. Irit Rogoff, “Studying Visual Culture,” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York: Routledge, 1998), 14–26, 22. 52. Many scholars have made these points. Several salient examples include Maurice O. Wallace, Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men’s Literature and Culture, 1775–1995 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002); Richard Dyer, “White,” Screen 29, no. 4 (1998): 44–64; Kobena Mercer, Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 1994); bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End Press, 1992); Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis, eds., Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003); Michael Rogin, Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); Martin A. Berger, Sight Unseen: Whiteness and American Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Michael D. Harris, Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); and, of course, Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks: The Experiences of a Black Man in a White World, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove Press, 1967). 222 — Notes
53. Richard Dyer, White (London: Routledge, 1997), especially chapter 3, “The Light of the World,” 82–144. 54. Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 23. 55. I have made detailed arguments along these lines in American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999) and in Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004).
Chapter 1: Race and Reproduction in Camera Lucida
1. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1980), trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 9. Subsequent citations in parentheses in the text. 2. I am thinking especially of the following works: Carol Mavor, Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999); Jo Spence, Putting Myself in the Picture: A Political Personal and Photographic Autobiography (Seattle: Real Comet, 1988); Annette Kuhn, Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination, rev. ed. (New York: Verso, 2002); Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), and Marianne Hirsch, ed., The Familial Gaze (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1999); bell hooks, “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life,” in Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography, ed. Deborah Willis (New York: New Press, 1994), 43–53; Jane Gallop, Living with His Camera, photographs by Dick Blau (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003); Deborah Willis, Family, History, Memory (Irvington, NY: Hylas, 2005); Sandra Matthews and Laura Wexler, Pregnant Pictures (New York: Routledge, 2000). 3. I agree with Fred Moten that “blackness and maternity play huge roles in the analytic of photography Roland Barthes lays down in Camera Lucida,” but I take a different critical path through Barthes’s text. Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 202. 4. Margaret Olin first made this observation in her wonderful essay, “Touching Photographs: Roland Barthes’s ‘Mistaken’ Identification,” Representations 80 (fall 2002): 99–118, 104–7. 5. David C. Hart provides this biographical information in his master’s thesis, “Differing Views: Roland Barthes, Race and James VanDerZee’s Family Portrait,” University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1996, 1, 11. For further information about VanDerZee, see also Deborah Willis- Braithwaite, VanDerZee, Photographer: 1886–1983 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993). 6. I agree, then, with Richard Powell’s assessment of the limitations of Barthes’s analysis of the VanDerZee photograph. Richard J. Powell, “Linguists, Poets, and ‘Others’ on African American Art,” American Art (spring 2003): 16–19, 17. Notes — 223