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Shooting from the Hip

Photography, Masculinity, and Postwar America

2005
Author:

Patricia Vettel-Becker

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Visually traces the portrayal of the American male

Shooting from the Hip reveals how photography helped to reconstruct and redefine the American idea of masculinity after the traumas of World War II. Patricia Vettel-Becker argues that from 1945 to 1960 photography became increasingly concerned with restoring the male body and psyche, glorifying traditional masculinity—cowboys, boxers, athletes, military men—while treading carefully in a homophobic Cold War climate.

Shooting from the Hip fills an important gap in photographic literature. As a feminist study of American photography it has virtually no competition.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau, author of Photography at the Dock

In Shooting from the Hip, Patricia Vettel-Becker reveals how photography helped to reconstruct and redefine the American idea of masculinity after the traumas of World War II. She argues that from 1945 to 1960 photography became increasingly concerned with restoring the male body and psyche, glorifying traditional masculinity—cowboys, boxers, athletes, military men—while treading carefully in a homophobic Cold War climate.

Examining photojournalism as well as art and fashion photography, Shooting from the Hip finds in the crisp images of postwar photography five models of masculinity: the breadwinner, the action hero, the tough guy, the playboy, and the rebel. Vettel-Becker shows how the professionalization of photography was an attempt by male photographers to identify themselves as breadwinners. She goes on to analyze combat photography, exposing its valorization of action, subjugation of the enemy, and the use of the blurred shot to signify credibility. She links street photography—heir to Depression-era social documentary—with hard-boiled crime photography, exemplified in the works of William Klein and Weegee. Sexualized fashion models and their relationships with photographers, such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, fuel the ideal of the consummate playboy. Finally, Vettel-Becker demonstrates the authentic and sometimes rebellious nature of the male body as presented by sports photographers and others influenced by the Beat generation, including Robert Frank and Bruce Davidson.

Taking a wide view of postwar photography, Vettel-Becker presents it as the triumph of a new form of modernist photography, centered on individual expression and the seductive image of the male body, and stimulated by a quest for the existential truth of masculinity.

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Patricia Vettel-Becker is assistant professor of art history at Montana State University, Billings. Her essays have appeared in American Art, Art Journal, Men and Masculinities, and Genders.

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Shooting from the Hip fills an important gap in photographic literature. As a feminist study of American photography it has virtually no competition.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau, author of Photography at the Dock

Thoughtful and well-written.

American Studies

Shooting from the Hip is a refreshing and very important book and a major contribution to the use of gender theory of photography, bringing to the fore a feminist rereading of the canon as well as the mainstream of a period, instead of focusing on ‘repressed’ authors and practices or on their rediscovery.

Leonardo Reviews

Shooting from the Hip is as fascinating and provocative as it is erudite in its combination of history and the weighty theoretical argument it draws on in proving that ‘man with a camera’ in postwar America was indeed the ‘epitome of masculine potency.’

Journal of American Studies

Patricia Vettel-Becker has written an intriguing and provocative history of the masculinization of post-World War II American photography. By gendering these images and the practice behind them, she disproves any notion of the natural evolution of the photographs and the historical period that produced them. At the same time, she shows how crucial photography was for the formation of the mainstream image of masculinity from 1945-1960.

Rain Taxi

Taking a wide view of postwar photography, Vettel-Becker presents it as a triumph of a new form of modernist photography, centered on individual expression and the seductive image of the male body, and stimulated by a quest for the existential truth of masculinity.

Billings News Service