Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self

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Few issues are as controversial as race and nation, reveating that after years of debate we still understand very little about how these terms of self-definition and identity work. Perhaps their meaning finds its most powerful expression in the medium of photography. Photographs have been used to present America as a haven for immigrants and a paradise of pioneers and entrepreneurs; yet photographs have also shown us a society fraught by racial conflict and struggles to transform the social order. Throughout the ...
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Overview

Few issues are as controversial as race and nation, reveating that after years of debate we still understand very little about how these terms of self-definition and identity work. Perhaps their meaning finds its most powerful expression in the medium of photography. Photographs have been used to present America as a haven for immigrants and a paradise of pioneers and entrepreneurs; yet photographs have also shown us a society fraught by racial conflict and struggles to transform the social order. Throughout the history of American photography, artists have responded to these mixed signals in a variety of ways. By bringing together a provocative selection of essays and images. Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self addresses the issues of nation, race, and selfhood and how they are depicted in ways that are challenging and informative, prompting readers to consider the impact of photography on our everyday lives. If photographs are chiefly responsible for perpetuating myths of American identity, can a different reading of these representations break down distorting stereotypes? This is the central question posed by Only Skin Deep. The authors in this book forcefully argue that race and nation -- and, indeed, photography itself -- are fictions, cultural constructions that shape our social interactions. Even as symbols, these photographic depictions of ethnic difference and cultural superiority have very real consequences. This collection of works and essays addresses, for example, the lingering consequences of American colonial expansion; the conflict between public and private visualizations of individuals; the role of commercial imagery in shaping gender roles; the impact of fantasy in ethnic or ethnographic photography; and the uses of science to provide justification for politicized depictions of "race."
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From its very beginnings, photography has been inextricably linked with racial typography, pornography, commodification and exploitation. This deeply questioning collection of 300 color photos and illustrations, along with essays, accompanies a national touring exhibition curated by the International Center of Photography's Wallis and artist Fusco (The Bodies that Were Not Ours). The collection exhumes and re-examines the "dark" underbelly of American race relations as related by historical photographs, and along the way makes valuable re-discoveries, including that the "Migrant Mother" in Dorothea Lange's celebrated Depression-era photograph, Florence Thompson, was of Cherokee descent. Aleta M. Ringlero relates how one response to her research on "Prairie Pinups," erotic photographs of American Indian women, was "we like to forget those kinds of photographs are in our collection." Demonstrating the book's intent to raise questions, not bury them, the contributors are allowed to disagree with each other: Kobena Mercer ultimately finds that Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs of black men "can be seen as a subversive deconstruction of the hidden racial and gendered axioms of the nude," while Lauri Firstenberg finds them "a contemporary example of photography's categorization and classification of subjects by stereotype." Despite their number, however, the images are underplayed-sparsely scattered through texts and printed small, they are left largely unexplained (in fact, the footnotes, placed directly underneath the photographs, are easily mistaken for captions) and photographs cited in the texts often seem not included. It will be a disappointment to many readers that the actual photographic evidence, difficult as it is to look at, is not an equal partner in this much-needed examination of the painful histories behind American identity. (Dec.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Written to accompany the traveling exhibition of the same name prepared by the International Center of Photography (ICP), this book is much more than an exhibition record or expansion of a show's topical scope. It is a powerful, thoroughgoing examination of the racial and nationalist conceptions that were photographically propagated from the mid-19th century onward. It profoundly considers the ways in which photography has traditionally helped to authenticate, shape, and galvanize these notions. Discussing the negative outcome of 19th-century ethnographic documentation, the depiction of photographic subjects as savage or sexualized "Others," and the significance of digital manipulation in contemporary art, the book's 17 essays orbit complex and ambivalent issues key to racial and national politics. Is the traditional emphasis on difference a divisive social force or should difference be celebrated? Editors Fusco (Corpus Delecti) and Wallis (chief curator, ICP; Blasted Allegories) have chosen authors who carefully consider photography's capacity to represent truth, its ability to shape human memory, and its possibly treacherous potential to traverse language barriers. With 300 full-color illustrations, the book is a vital contribution to the fields of American history, art history, and anthropology and is recommended for all libraries focusing on these subjects. [The show's locations through 2005 include New York City's ICP, the Seattle Museum of Art, Puerto Rico's El Museo del Arte, San Diego Museum of Art, and Ohio's Wexner Center.-Ed.]-Savannah Schroll, formerly with Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810946354
  • Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/28/2003
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 10.50 (h) x 1.75 (d)

Table of Contents

Director's Foreword 6
Curators' Acknowledgments 8
Racial Time, Racial Marks, Racial Metaphors 13
The Theoretical Status of the Concept of Race 51
Plates I Looking Up / Looking Down 62
The Traffic in Photographs 79
The Shadow and the Substance: Race, Photography, and the Index 111
Looking for Empire in the U.S. Colonial Archive 129
Plates II Assimilate / Impersonate 144
Black Bodies, White Science: Louis Agassiz's Slave Daguerreotypes 163
Prairie Pinups: Reconsidering Historic Portraits of American Indian Women 183
No-Movies: The Art of False Documents 199
Plates III Humanize / Fetishize 204
Skin Head Sex Thing: Racial Difference and the Homoerotic Imaginary 237
The Consumption of Lynching Images 267
Exposure 275
Plates IV All for One / One for All 282
On the Matter of Whiteness 301
Autonomy and the Archive in America: Reexamining the Intersection of Photography and Stereotype 313
Toyo Miyatake and "Our World" 335
Passing Likeness: Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" and the Paradox of Iconicity 345
Plates V Progress / Regress 356
Where Truth Ends and Fantasy Begins: Postcards from the South Pacific 371
Morphologies: Race as a Visual Technology 379
Checklist of the Exhibition 394
Selected Bibliography 404
Notes on the Contributors 409
Lenders to the Exhibition 410
Credits 411
Index 412
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