On this page you will find synopses of a few academic projects, including my dissertation, “Adventures into Cameraland.” For an academic-use copy of any of these papers, please contact me directly.
“Adventures into Cameraland;”Women, Image-Making, and the Social Environment of Chicago Camera Clubs at the Turn of the Century”
The camera club functioned for 19th-century Chicagoans as a site of learning, socializing, creating, and viewing. As such, this site provides an intricate and complex case study through which to examine photographic culture, influences and images. Amateur female photographers became involved in the clubs in part because of their artistic backgrounds and impulses just at a time when Chicago clubs were in need of enthusiasm and were embracing a pictorial aesthetic. At the turn of the century, however, in response to art photography movements elsewhere, Chicago’s clubs turned toward a more populist aesthetic and embraced the hobbyists they had once spurned. At the same time, the clubs began to reject the elitism of the Photo Secession that had taken hold in the periodicals and salons nationally. This movement toward hobbyism and away from the artistic aims of the Secession did much to exclude women practitioners from the camera club environment. By looking at the waxing and waning of Chicago female practitioners as active producers in the camera clubs, this study provides a distinct focal point from which to view turn-of-the century culture and photographic history anew.
Mirroring a White City; Venue and Viewership in the Woman’s Building of the Columbian World’s Fair
In 1893, in the bustling metropolis of Chicago, along the shores of Lake Michigan, a glorious, temporary, “city” emerged, bathed in white. Conceived to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ coming to America, this World’s Fair, often called the “White City,” has been offered by scholars as a defining moment in the cultural history of the country. An auspicious time in America, the Fair mirrored the conflicted identity of citizens who were inundated with contradictory messages in an era of rapid urbanization and industrialization. Among its many distinctions is the Columbian Fair’s legacy as the first American World’s Fair to include a separate Woman’s Building as well as an independent Board of Lady Managers, established from the outset by act of congress rather than as a secondary conciliation. The Woman’s Building, and in particular the Hall of Honor at its center, is the site for this inquiry into the effect of venue on a viewer’s experience and its implications.
Idealizing August Sander: The Effect of Exhibition on Public Perception
The way in which art is exhibited is context driven and effects the reception of the work and posterity’s impression of the artist. The photographer August Sander, whose intention it was to create a physiognomic portrait of German Identity in Weimar Germany, presents a perfect case study. Examining three distinct showings of his work, in 1927, 1955, and 2001, we see how our modern conception of this photographer as genius has been formed, allowing his art to stand the test of time while many of his contemporaries have been forgotten. The numerous institutions and curators who have displayed Sander’s work have used it variably; this chameleon ability has allowed his photographs to endure.
Room for the Viewer: A Dialogic Approach to Meaning Negotiation in Art
Communication between artist and viewer takes place through the art work. The creation and consequent viewing of the art work are negotiated in the real world. The communication is mediated by various aspects of the world around these two individuals, including the space of viewership, the context of viewing, and learned responses. A central place for viewership in the modern world is the art museum. The museum conception of art is based around ideals. These ideal notions center on the ideal setting. Space in the museum depends on the concept of a perfect place for perspective on an art work. This assumes, of course, that there is a place, in relation to the art piece, to see the work as ‘intended’. The museum also constructs the ideal viewer. These constructions take place through various aspects of the museum from orientation lectures, signage, and tours all the way down to web sites, catalogues, and pamphlets intended to instruct the viewer. The idea is that the viewer needs certain information in order to approach the art work as intended. Museum orientation also instructs the viewer in the ideal aesthetic stance, the formal viewing posture learned in the museum setting. This engagement with the work is assumed to be necessary to allow the message of the work to reach the viewer as intended. The assumption made here is that there is an ideal method of viewing in order to achieve the goal of understanding an intended message. The question we must ask is whether communication in art is truly one sided as this notion would have us believe. Is the artist’s intention to wash us in their knowledge, and is this method successful in changing the viewer in any genuine way?
The Effect of Ocular-Centric Discourse and the Sense Hierarchy on Contemporary Society
Recently, while walking in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a distinct racket interrupted my viewing pleasure. Perturbed, I sought the source and found that the culprit was not some child or rebellious teenager; instead it was an innocuous piece of art standing near the sidewall of the gallery. The object was a mass of brass and polished wood, standing unmovable and still until that moment when it began clamoring, a mess of noise coming from its core, and moving its dense limbs. I learned at some point that I was “lucky” to have heard the sounds as they occur only every two and half hours. Later, as I discussed the experience with some friends I realized that this work exemplified the anti-ocular-centric intentions of our modern time. To discuss whether ocular-centrism is a problem for the contemporary human subject one must realize that the tide has turned in the last fifty or sixty years to an overwhelmingly anti-ocular-centric discourse espoused and exchanged by both art and theory. The Crisis of ocular-centrism has taken many forms, from psychological theory argued by Lacan and Sartre to Religious speculation by theorists like Grosseteste to challenges within art about the singularity of the Cartesian perspectivalist tradition discussed by historians such a Buci-Glucksman.