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On Writing with Photography

2013

Karen Beckman and Liliane Weissberg, Editors

On Writing with Photography

An exploration of the relationship between photography and text, from the age of early photography to the contemporary graphic novel

On Writing with Photography explores what happens to texts—and images—when they are brought together, addressing a wide range of genres and media, including graphic novels, children’s books, photo-essays, films, diaries, newspapers, and art installations. Together, these essays help explain how writers and photographers—past and present—have served as powerful creative resources for each other.

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.

On Writing with Photography

Karen Beckman is Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe Professor of Cinema and Modern Media in the Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. She is author of Vanishing Women: Magic, Film, and Feminism and Crash: Cinema and the Politics of Speed and Stasis and coeditor (with Jean Ma) of Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography. She is a senior editor of the journal Grey Room.

Liliane Weissberg is professor of German and comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Writing with Photography

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction
Karen Beckman and Liliane Weissberg

1. From the Birth of Photography to the Death of the Author
Marcy J. Dinius

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
Roderick Coover

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

4. Captured Things: Man Ray’s Object Photography
Janine Mileaf

5. Photography’s Linguistic Turn: On Werner Graeff’s Here Comes the New
Photographer!
Daniel H. Magilow

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

7. Playing Doll
Liliane Weissberg

8. Situating Images: Photography, Writing, and Cinema in the Work of Guy Debord
Tyrus Miller

9. The Generation of Postmemory
Marianne Hirsch

10. Picturing the Specter of History: Zhang Ailing’s Visual Practice
Xiaojue Wang

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

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