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Download Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U.S. Imperialism (Cultural Studies of the United States) epub

by Laura Wexler

Laura Wexler presents an incisive analysis of how the first American female photojournalists contributed to a "domestic vision" that reinforced the imperialism and racism of turn-of-the-century America. These women photographers, white and middle class, constructed images of war disguised as peace through a mechanism Wexler calls the "averted eye," which had its origins in the private domain of family photography.Wexler examines the work of Frances Benjamin Johnston, Gertrude Kasebier, Alice Austen, the Gerhard sisters, and Jessie Tarbox Beals. The book includes more than 150 photographs taken between 1898 and 1904, such as photos Johnston took aboard Admiral Dewey's flagship as it returned home from conquering Manila, Austen's photos of immigrants at Ellis Island, and Beals's images of the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904.In a groundbreaking approach to the study of photography, Wexler raises up these images as "texts" to be analyzed alongside other texts of the period for what they say about the discourses of power. Tender Violence is an important contribution not only to the fields of history of photography and gender studies but also to our growing understanding of U.S. imperialism during this period.
Download Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U.S. Imperialism (Cultural Studies of the United States) epub
ISBN: 0807825700
ISBN13: 978-0807825709
Category: Photography
Subcategory: Photography & Video
Author: Laura Wexler
Language: English
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; New edition edition (November 6, 2000)
Pages: 384 pages
ePUB size: 1189 kb
FB2 size: 1884 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 129
Other Formats: txt mobi lrf rtf

This monograph was a requirement for one of my graduate seminars. Although I was "forced" to read it, I believe this book does offer an interesting perspective. At times, her interpretation seemed to be a bit of a stretch; for example, she "read into" a white divider between a photograph of a man and a photograph of a woman- some times a white border is simply a white border, in my opinion. However, for what it is worth, I do recommend this book.
In "Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U.S. Imperialism", Laura Wexler believes “the first cohort of American women photographers to achieve serious public careers as photojournalists at the turn of the century often used the ‘innocent eye’ attributed to them by white domestic sentiment to construct images of war as peace, images that were, in turn, a constitutive element of the social relations of United States imperialism during the era’s annexation and consolidation of colonies” (pg. 6). She continues, “In their work we can see that the constitutive sentimental functions of the innocent eye masked and distorted what otherwise must have been more apparent: hatred, fear, collusion, resistance, and mimicry on the part of the subaltern; compulsion, presumption, confusion, brutality, and soul murder on the part of the colonial agent” (pg. 7). Wexler primarily focuses on the photography of Frances Benjamin Johnston, though she does use a couple other woman photographers, writing, “One generally shared aspect of their efforts was the highly intimate side to the work of policing the boundaries of American domesticity, which many of the women seem to have experienced as internal contradiction” (pg. 11). Wexler draws upon the work of Gail Bederman, Judith Butler, and others.
Wexler uses Johnston’s photographs of Commodore George Dewey after the Battle of Manila as an introduction to her theories. She writes, “Domestic images may be – but need not be – representations of and for a so-called separate sphere of family life. Domestic images may also be configurations of familiar and intimate arrangements intended for the eyes of outsiders, the heimlich (private) as a kind of propaganda; or they may be metonymical references to unfamiliar arrangements, the unheimlich intended for domestic consumption. What matters is the use of the image to signify the domestic realm” (pg. 21). Wexler continues, “The cult of domesticity was a crucial framework for American imperialism in the late nineteenth century. In the United States, apologists for colonialism used conceptions of domestic progress as both a descriptive and a heuristic tool” (pg. 22). Further, Wexler considers “as domestic images several sets of late nineteenth-century American photographs that presented views of American daily life which resonated with, at the very least, and sometimes deliberately sought to amplify the voices of American imperialism” (pg. 22). In this way, “Domestic photography hoped to make the visible disappear. By definition, the imperial house of horrors was outside the frame” (pg. 35). Examining theory, Wexler writes, “Gender is, in effect, a delivery system for race and class distinctions, and the arousal of gender consciousness has to be taken also as a sign of other activations as well as those, or along with those, of sex” (pg. 42). Finally, “the use of gender as an analytical category in the study of photographic narrative, as a sign of many differences, not all of which are commensurate with one another or even synchronous with the story line” (pg. 47).
Of sentimentality, Wexler writes, “We must recognize in sentimental discourse that coded American domesticity as a benign or even a benevolent force, a compromise with or even a flirtation with the mechanics of racialized terror that kept a firm hold throughout the entire course of the nineteenth century” (pg. 53). In this way, “the culture of sentiment aimed not only to establish itself as the gatekeeper of social existence but at the same time to denigrate all other people whose style or conditions of domesticity did not conform to the sentimental model. Since the sentimental home was the model home, it followed that anyone else’s home was in need of reform” (pg. 67). Wexler writes, “What we learn of the past by looking at photographic documents like the Hampton album is not ‘the way things were,’ to use the essentializing phrase. Instead, what they show us of the past is a record of choices. What a photograph represents is a solution to a clash of forces that we must learn to see” (pg. 133). She continues, “The photographer’s mise en scène, her choice of group arrangements and camera angles, and the body language and self-presentation of the photographed subjects construct a submerged text that is analogous to the unconscious in Freudian theory, to maternal language in Kristevian semiotics, and to the Real in Lacanian psychoanalysis, in the challenge it allows viewers to make to the dominant story” (pg. 153).
Wexler writes, “As a female artist in conflict with the strictures of her own position, striving to loosen her own bonds, Johnston seems unaware of an analogy, however tenuous, between her desire for freedom and theirs. The white, Victorian, unmarried woman artist was more conscious of being caught in a density of feminine proscriptions than was usual for other white Victorian women” (pg. 162-163). She continues, “In the context of late-nineteenth-century U.S. imperialism, middle-class white American women photographers, like earlier Euro-American women travel writers, mediated the politics of racial subjugation through what they felt, in accordance with the history of domestic sentimentalism, to be their prerogatives in looking” (pg. 177). Wexler concludes, “Photography has always been a constitutive force, not merely reflecting but actively determining the social spaces in which lives are lived. The narratives we make about domestic photographs, relating image to image and to other cultural forms, have helped to shape our current violent predicaments of race, class, and gender” (pg. 299).
Overall, a good book to explore both the benefits and potential pitfalls of applying semiotics to the study of history. Wexler provides good insights as well as a number of highly questionable interpretations (particularly of the photographs on the Olympia). If read with a critical eye, the reader will profit from being forced to examine the potential importance of images on our perception of history.