The Camera as Historian: Amateur Photographers and Historical Imagination, 1885–1918

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Stony Brook University]On: 30 October 2014, At: 19:23Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>History of PhotographyPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:</p><p>The Camera as Historian: Amateur Photographersand Historical Imagination, 18851918Joanna SassoonPublished online: 21 Aug 2013.</p><p>To cite this article: Joanna Sassoon (2013) The Camera as Historian: Amateur Photographers and Historical Imagination,18851918, History of Photography, 37:3, 371-373, DOI: 10.1080/03087298.2013.778033</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose ofthe Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be reliedupon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shallnot be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and otherliabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>camouflage consciousness in the Second World War. It was riveting to read her analysis ofdynamic camouflage in Lyes film Kill or be Killed (1942), and her discussion of how embodi-ment of the cameras gaze increasingly determined bodily behaviour in space. The thirdchapter is where Shell explains how visual training in the Second World War put greateremphasis than previously on body awareness in the face of ubiquitous surveillance. I wasreminded of Australian soldiers in Papua New Guinea criticised for having body inhibitionsand for being reluctant to lie flat and crawl. The subject of bodies and disappearance isdeveloped differently in Chapter Four, where the discussion turns to skin as screen andexplores a human obsession with chameleons, with chameleon suits and with the desire forinstant invisibility. Shell moves the discussion into the intriguing world of contemporarychameleonic media technologies and detection technologies. She addresses hiding and seekingin high-tech environments and offers a brilliant analysis of the film Predator (directed by JohnMcTiernan in 1987) and the terror of the invisible, heat-seeking creature that becomes visibleas a pixellated disruption in the materiality of film. It is an exciting subject to end the book: theambiguity of what is hidden and what is seen, who is hiding and who is seeking.</p><p>Both artist and writer, Hanna Shell brings palpable insight to a history where artists wereintegral to developments in camouflage technologies and worked side by side with naturalistsas well as military personnel. Camouflage is puzzling by nature and the author helps the readerby making her arguments through images. Photographs, drawings, paintings and film stillsplay a vital role as Shell positions the practical circumstances and philosophical implications ofcamouflage in relation to photography, film and aerial reconnaissance. The first image weencounter is a photographic work by the author herself. Spatially disorienting and thereforetrue to the aims of camouflage, Blind makes a perfect introduction to Shells unfoldingsequence of chapters. We see a figure so well camouflaged we can hardly tell whether it is ahuman standing in the middle distance of a rational naturalistic space, almost blending withnearby vegetation. But surrounding the figure is a different spatial order, a chaotic and abstractone that rushes inward and threatens to dissolve the figures distinction. Many readers will bereminded of the menacing, seemingly supernatural creature in Predator. The image also sharesa striking similarity with a series of paintings coincidentally entitled Hide and Seek bysurrealist artist Pavel Tchelitchew (18981957) and published in the camouflage issue of USjournal ARTnews in 1942. Although different in media, both Shells and Tchelitchews imagesput on exhibit the signs of disappearance: immateriality, dynamic time, spatial incoherence,and disorientation through doubling. These are camouflage effects that the author so ablydiscusses throughout the book.</p><p>Hanna Shells approach is selective and succinct. The chapters of her book investigatestrategies and processes of camouflage between 1859, when Darwin publishedOn the Origin ofSpecies, and 1945, the end of the Second World War. Immediately Shell draws the reader inwith her quick pace and often ironic tone. Blending in and standing out go to the heart of theway people live their lives and judge each other. Perhaps because of this, Shell likes to repeatthe phrase not showing up; it suggests many things from the optical and behaviouralconsequences of concealment to the urban stigma of breaking a social commitment by failingto appear. This turn of phrase is reminiscent of Alexander Nemerovs brilliant and oftenhilarious analysis of the public argument that developed between Abbott Thayer and TheodoreRoosevelt over Thayers concealing colouration theory, discussed in Vanishing Americans(American Art, 1997). It is not surprising to find Nemerovs research and mentoring cited inShells book. There is much to enjoy in all four chapters and without doubt this book, detailinginterrelationships of technological advances in photography and film and developments incamouflage media and camouflage consciousness, will live into the future as readers scrutiniseit, evaluate it and take its useful and imaginative store of ideas in additional directions.</p><p>Ann Elias# 2013 Ann Elias</p><p></p><p>The Camera as Historian: Amateur Photographers and Historical Imagination, 18851918Elizabeth Edwards. Duke University Press, Durham, NC, and London, 2012. 344 pages, with121 colour and black &amp; white illustrations. Softcover 19.99, ISBN 978-0-822-35104-7.</p><p>Over the past fifteen years Elizabeth Edwards has shaped a research methodology that movesfrom looking at photographs to thinking with photographs. Through her focus on the inter-play between the context and content of photographs, she has extended our understanding ofthe role that photographs play in shaping ideas about race and culture, and the importance ofmateriality to the essence of a photographic object. Edwardss mode is ethnographic andarchival that the cultural context of creation is forever part of the meaning of the photographwhile newmeanings may accrue over the lives of the photographs. Her methodology derives inpart from her training in medieval history and considerable experience as a photographiccurator.</p><p>371</p><p>Reviews</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Ston</p><p>y B</p><p>rook</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 1</p><p>9:23</p><p> 30 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>In The Camera as Historian, Edwards focuses on the expression of Englishness as seenthrough the output of the photographic survey movement at the turn of the twentieth century.National in ambition, encyclopaedic in scope and systematic in its field methodology, thephotographic survey movement emerged at a time of social and economic change and risingawareness of heritage. The movement harnessed the community impulse to preserve throughthe use of photographic technology and scientific methodology. By mobilising amateurphotographers, the leaders of the movement aspired to build a centralised archive of photo-graphs of the churches, the villages and folkways and customs of England, along with theoccasional contrasting image of urban modernity. The style of record photography subjugatedindividual artistic creativity towards a common aesthetic, and as a well-documented archive,its output represents a snapshot of ideas about what was seen as significant in defining ruralEnglishness through the style and content of the chosen subject matter.</p><p>Edwards examines how the history of the survey movements and the contexts of theproduction of the photographs shape their content, and then thinks with the collections ofphotographs to understand how they are inflected with ideas of class, urban/rural representa-tion and gender. With the support of theories relating to memory, material culture, andheritage and identity formation, this book then follows the reception and reproduction ofselections of the survey movement photographs, through the uptake in other forms of media exhibitions, lantern slides, postcards, the photographic press and other publications and,more recently, in contemporary exhibitions and websites.</p><p>The frontispiece of this book shows two photographs of timber-framed buildingsmounted on card alongside labels documenting their photographer, locality and processingdetails. Aside from the emblematic content of the photographs, the photographic objectsillustrated in the frontispiece articulate the archival promise of the photographic surveymovement, which was imbued with values relating to truth, accuracy and preserving theevidential value of photographs. Its leaders were prescient in understanding that, in order tocreate a permanent record, the photographs needed to be created to standards and have goodassociated documentation to identify their content prior to deposit in a centralised archive. Itwas hoped that by documenting through photography the things that mattered, amateurphotographers would be part of a self-conscious, national performance of memorialisation.</p><p>Alongside thinking with the products of the survey movement and understanding itsoperations, Edwards sees through the photographic output to the cultural values that moti-vated its participants and the tensions that underpinned the movement, and which it gener-ated and responded to. Set within a context of increasing access to photographic technology,the rise of leisure and an emerging historical consciousness, the movement encapsulated theshifting status of the practice of photography between a technical idea of what constitutes aphotographic record and an artistic product. Moreover, the initial national aspirations of thesurvey movement to work to standards of photography and documentation wilted in the faceof individual will and the cohesiveness of local communities responsible for the documentarytask. Most of the photographs were deposited in local libraries that had become the sites ofcultural memory by the close of the nineteenth century.</p><p>Edwards writes a history of a movement that aspired to be national, yet she balances theexpression of the national ideal alongside its local cleavages. This book explores the range ofcontexts of local communities and the variety of styles across clubs participating in surveys, therelationships between learned societies and antiquarian organisations, and between groupsinterested in natural history and cultural landscapes. This approach provides a national historyand an excellent framework in which to place future micro-histories of local surveys.</p><p>If there is a common thread running through this book it is about responses to change, orwhat Edwards terms an entropic anxiety a definition drawn from prevalent scientificthought and defined as a sense of change, disappearance and loss. The tide of loss pervadingthis book runs much deeper and far beyond the original actions and intentions of the move-ment whose archival aspirations are reflected in the frontispiece illustration.</p><p>Edwardss understanding of how cultural institutions operate is behind the success of themonumental archival research for this project. However, as she undertakes the research for thisbook, the scale of the dispersal and loss of the archive becomes apparent. Despite her forensicskills, Edwards finds little material evidence of many of the more than seventy differentphotographic surveys that formed part of the movement and which are listed in an appendix.The series of photographs from individual surveys that survive have often been dismemberedthrough library practices that privilege content and the individual object over context andrelationships between series of photographs. For many of the series that survive, their originalprovenance is identifiable only to the eye attuned to the styles of mounts, labels, albums andoccasionally boxes a familiarity that comes from looking at extant archives and the broaderintentions and instructions of the movement. Edwards identifies the responsibility for the lossof provenance with libraries that were entrusted to preserve the output of the local surveymovements yet failed to understand how tomanage photographic archives. Her account of themateriality of neglect of loss of knowledge of the location of photographs, poor documen-tation where they exist, increasing fragmentation with themovement of collections across localauthority institutions, and digitisation without the material trace or metadata to reunite theindividual items is a sobering yet urgent message to contemporary curatorial practice thatoften destroys meaning even if the object is saved.</p><p>372</p><p>Reviews</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Ston</p><p>y B</p><p>rook</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 1</p><p>9:23</p><p> 30 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>The Camera as Historian is lavishly illustrated and is underpinned by excellent research.In style this is a classic cultural history that is overlain by thinking with photographs andresearching the politics, culture and context of their creation and preservation. It is animportant study for those interested in big questions about the status and study of photo-graphy and the history of the representation of England and Englishness at the turn of thetwentieth century. The design is clear, the reproduction of the photographs is excellent and theappendices are useful for further reference.</p><p>However, the book is not without its challenges for the reader. Edwardss style, to use anoft-used Clifford Geertz phrase from her RawHistories, is thick description. While the booksideas are complex, the expression is at times unnecessarily dense. Structurally, The Camera asH...</p></li></ul>


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