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Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen and Other Photographic Rhetoric
     

Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen and Other Photographic Rhetoric

by Robert Bogdan
 

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Midget, feeble-minded, crippled, lame, and insane: these terms and the historical photographs that accompany them may seem shocking to present-day audiences. A young woman with no arms wears a sequined tutu and smiles for the camera as she smokes a cigarette with her toes; a man holds up two prosthetic legs while his own legs are bared to the knees to show his

Overview

Midget, feeble-minded, crippled, lame, and insane: these terms and the historical photographs that accompany them may seem shocking to present-day audiences. A young woman with no arms wears a sequined tutu and smiles for the camera as she smokes a cigarette with her toes; a man holds up two prosthetic legs while his own legs are bared to the knees to show his missing feet. The photos were used as promotional material for circus sideshows, charity drives, and art galleries. They were found on begging cards and in family albums. In Picturing Disability, Bogdan and his collaborators gather over 200 historical photographs showing how people with disabilities have been presented and exploring the contexts in which they were photographed.

Rather than focus on the subjects, Bogdan turns his gaze on the people behind the camera. He examines the historic and cultural environment of the photographs to decipher the relationship between the images and the perspectives of the picture makers. In analyzing the visual rhetoric of these photographs, Bogdan identifies the wide variety of genres, from sideshow souvenirs to clinical photographs. Ranging from the 1860s, when photographs first became readily available, to the 1970s, when the disability rights movement became a force for significant change, Bogdan chronicles the evolution of disability image creation. Picturing Disability takes the reader beyond judging images as positive or slanderous to reveal how particular contexts generate specific emotions and lasting depictions.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Syracuse University social scientist Bogdon (Freak Show) examines historical pictures of people with disabilities, situating his subjects within a cultural history and examining the "visual rhetoric" employed to capture them. He describes his approach and research techniques, encouraging the reader to engage the images with specific textual interjections—an approach complicated by the pictures not always appearing on the same page as Bogdon's assessment. The chapters are organized by category of disability: freak portraits, asylums, clinical photographs, and others. This structure allows Bogdon to address larger issues at play during multiple eras of his study. In the category of freak photography, for example, subjects were portrayed as important and financially well-to-do—a source of entertainment rather than pity. Strangely, considering his structural choices, Bogdon is unwilling to closely examine social and political forces behind these images—a fact that he readily admits in the conclusion. 223 b&w illus. (Dec.)
H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences
"The book is a visual treasure trove for scholars in the field. Drawing from his own archive and from private collections largely inaccessible to the average researcher, Bogdan, with contributions from Martin Elks and James A. Knoll, presents readers with a vast and diverse array of photographs of people with disabilities....The product is of great value to scholars of disability as well as those studying poverty, charity, art, film, medicine, and the family, among other topics, in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century America."
H-Net Reviews in the Humanities and Social Sciences
The book is a visual treasure trove for scholars in the field. Drawing from his own archive and from private collections largely inaccessible to the average researcher, Bogdan, with contributions from Martin Elks and James A. Knoll, presents readers with a vast and diverse array of photographs of people with disabilities.
Melinda C. Hall - Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies
"Picturing Disability presents nine genres of "disability photography" in a remarkable collection of 223 illustrations. Photos included range across more than a century, from the 1860s to the 1970s. The contribution of this work to the field of disability studies cannot be overstated, largely because of the scarcity of books on disability with a similar historical scope....Its noteworthy coverage and fresh insights make it a terrific contribution to the field."
Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews
A valuable contribution to understanding how disability has been portrayed in U.S.
culture and how, by extension, popular consciousness of disability has been shaped.
Journal of Literary Cultural Disability Studies - Melinda C. Hall
Picturing Disability presents nine genres of "disability photography" in a remarkable collection of 223 illustrations. Photos included range across more than a century, from the 1860s to the 1970s. The contribution of this work to the field of disability studies cannot be overstated, largely because of the scarcity of books on disability with a similar historical scope..Its noteworthy coverage and fresh insights make it a terrific contribution to the field.
Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews - Michael Schwalbe
A valuable contribution to understanding how disability has been portrayed in U.S.
culture and how, by extension, popular consciousness of disability has been shaped.
Journal of Disability & Religion - Bill Gaventa
For anyone who is interested in the ways people with disabilities and their families were visualized and described in the past, and the ways those images then helped form stereotypes or perspectives towards disability in the present, Picturing Disability is an incredible resource and a must-read, or,
rather, a must-read and must-see.
Library Journal
The history of disability is a complicated one, fraught with oppression and exploitation. Disabled people were used in freak shows, as poster children for charities, and even monsters in cinema. Bogdan (social science, Syracuse Univ.; Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit) assembled various photographs and images of people with disabilities from the late 1800s to the 1970s and attempts to dissect the historical context of these images. He not only examines the subjects of the photographs, but he also focuses on the creators and their motives for circulating these images. Bogdan is relentless in his ability to provide the background information and detail behind the majority of the images, which is truly impressive. This photographic essay is an important examination not only of what it meant to be a disabled person between the 1860s and the 1970s but also of the exploitative and manipulative methods to which they were, and still are, subjected.

Verdict Those with an interest in disability studies and the history of oppressed populations will find this an intriguing resource of study.—Caitlin Kenney, Niagara Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Sanborn, NY

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780815633020
Publisher:
Syracuse University Press
Publication date:
10/15/2012
Pages:
198
Product dimensions:
8.80(w) x 11.30(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Bogdan resides in Orwell, VT. Previous Books: Real Photo Postcard Guide: the People's Photography and Beauty and the Beast: Human-Animal Relations as Revealed in Real Photo Postcards, 1905-1935

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