Mr. Whiskets writes, “The 20 hour flight from Thailand to New York left me with a lot of reading time so I was able to finish off the first two releases of the University of California Press’s Defining Moments in American Photography series On Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War (#1 in the series) and Lynching Photographs (#2). Although I find the second book Lynching Photographs an odd choice for a ‘defining moment,’ both are fascinating reads and leave me very curious as to how the series will progress.
Now usually I do not care for books dedicated solely to history so on first glance I thought these would be prime candidates as simple dust collectors, sitting on my shelf neglected and mostly unread. But…these are not simply history lessons; they provoke thought and examine the work in the realm of other visual culture. The series goal is to “investigate key photographers and images in the history of American photography. Reshape that history with attention to race, gender, and class; bring focused and accessible studies of American photography to a wide audience; place American photography at the center of American visual culture; and bring into dialogue writers from art history, American studies, cultural studies, gender studies, literary studies, and American history.” (Whew!)
Each book contains two essays by different authors and each tackle a different aspect of the work. For instance, in On Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook, Anthony W. Lee writes at length about the history behind the creation of the Sketchbook and also the role photography played in relation to war and to other means of documentation such as the sketch artists who were also working the battlefields. Then, Elizabeth Young takes the conversation in a different direction with her essay, Verbal Battlefields, which examines the relation of words to photographs since Gardner’s Sketchbook has extensive captions for each photograph.