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Fall 2020
Starting with Volume 32, the NCS staff and the NCSA board are excited for our publication to join the Journals Division of Pennsylvania State University Press.
Spring 2020
Spring 2020: Despite stay-at-home restrictions due to COVID-19, NCS staff continues working through the final stages of producing volume 31. Once printed, however, the issue must await safe conditions for the staff to prepare the mailing. We thank contributors and readers for your patience.
2020
NCS will be joining the Journal Division of Pennsylvania State University Press, beginning with Volume 32.
Fall 2019
Volume 30, Special Issue "Assembly," available.

The cover of NCS Volume 30

Spring 2019
Volume 29 available.

The cover of NCS Volume 29

April 2018

Call for Submissions: Special Issue of NCS on "Patchwork, Cut-and-Paste, Reassembly"

This special issue will focus on ideas of reuse and recombination. How were bits and scraps of materials, textual and otherwise, reassembled into new forms in the nineteenth century? To what ends? Essays might consider these issues in relation to images, fabrics, texts, and more. Possible topics could include scrapbooks, patchwork, quotation, citation, illustration, and any and all forms of recombination. Approaches from all disciplines, including literature, art history, history, music, and the history of science and the social sciences, are welcome, as are submissions that cross national boundaries and/or range across the nineteenth century. One particularly exciting feature of Nineteenth-Century Studies is thatthe journal encourages authors to enhance their contributions with pertinent artwork.

Please submit manuscripts of 8,000-12,000 words, following NCS's submission guidelines to guest editor Casie LeGette at legette@uga.edu. Early expressions of interest and proposals of topics are also welcome. The deadline for submissions of full manuscripts is August 1, 2018, but review will begin May 1, 2018 and earlier submissions are encouraged.

December 2017

Now Available: 19th Century Studies, Vol. 27.

The cover of NCS Volume 27

February 2017

Now Available: 19th Century Studies, Vol. 26.

The cover of NCS Volume 26

March 7, 2013
NCS introduces new online reviews feature. See online reviews.
March 1, 2011
NCSA introduces new Nineteenth Century Studies journal Web site.
March 15, 2010
Now Available: 19th Century Studies, Vol. 22.

 

Vistas

Charles Ellis Johnson and the Erotic Mormon Image. By Mary Campbell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Pp. vii-211.

In her book Charles Ellis Johnson and the Erotic Mormon Image, Mary Campbell argues that photographer Charles Ellis Johnson (1857-1926) recreates the Mormon image, one that was generally understood only in relationship to polygamist controversy in the nineteenth century. Looking at his body of work as a whole—both as an official photographer for the church, and as a producer of “spicy pictures” (p. 59) —she offers a rich discussion on the centrality of pictures in creating both the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known also as LDS or Mormons) and the modern American nation (p. 15). To Campbell, the exploitative overtones of Johnson’s image-making, however, were indefinitely tied to the detriment of female bodies, particularly those of the first few generations of LDS women who endured a culture “riddled with silence, concealment, and gender inequality” (p. 144). By understanding the LDS faith as one reliant not only on pictures, but on a technology, Campbell opens a path for reframing the religion in terms of media specificity.

Early in the book, Campbell examines political cartoons to establish the strategies deployed to construct an image of LDS “other” alongside a longstanding political and legal battle over polygamy. By discussing the deeply racial implications of Orientalizing the Mormons, Campbell’s study broadens the conversation, making it not merely about discrimination towards the religion, but also about various instances of racial and religious experience. Campbell looks to Johnson’s travel books and other media as counter-image-making attempts by the LDS Church to assert an LDS gentility and fit masculinity, to “preach” the message that “‘Mormons are intelligent, artistic and refined’” (p. 23). Photography, in particular, functions as a medium for male salvation meant to counter the more harmful propaganda surrounding polygamy. For Campbell, Johnson’s photographic method and production of image was a symbolic reassertion of LDS origin and theology, the subject matter a testimony to a moment of complicated transition from a polygamous to a monogamous lifestyle. As she provocatively characterizes the LDS church as “Stereoscopic Saints” (p. 145), Campbell argues that Johnson’s church-sanctioned work demonstrates the power of images and their mass circulation in constructing an acceptable reputation.

On the other hand, the second half of the book considers Johnson’s erotic images. These exquisite photographs were not only an incredible archival find, but, to Campbell, deepen the gendered implications of LDS image-making. In her fourth chapter on “Mormon Harems,” Campbell compares Johnson’s mail-order erotica to artists and works like Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres’ (1780-1867) and Eugene Delacroix’s (1798-1863) Odalisque paintings, which not only reiterate the colonialist attitudes and “deep taste for all things Eastern” in America (p. 98), but, as Campbell explains, “corporealize…implicit acts of visual domination” that also proliferated LDS doctrine (p. 103-104). While contextualizing them in vaudeville and turn-of-the century entertainment, Johnson’s “spicy pictures” are also read as “eroticized . . . panic” (p. 101) or an “elemental Mormon urge” to still achieve “godhood” at a moment of symbolic “impotence” in the LDS submission to the American government (p. 114, 107). To her, they offered a “synesthetic body” (p. 158) in place of the void left by the abolishment of polygamy while also serving as a haunting visual reminder of the loss itself.

In her last chapter, Campbell compares a photograph titled The Stereograph as Educator (1901) with an anonymous image of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith (1805-44), translating the Golden Plates, a process that resulted in the foundational text the Book of Mormon. This comparison draws out the similarities of the conditions of possibility—including accessing knowledge—that these forms of mediation provide. Through its ability to transport and even “reincarnate” the viewer (p. 158), she sees Johnson’s stereoscopic imaging as an alternative to the reality of the LDS condition—a saving grace—in both the conception of the religion and in its evolution, perhaps even a logical conduit to alternate realities and kingdoms embedded in its doctrine. While Campbell sees Johnson’s photographs as both index and icon, she also pays close attention to how vision and theologies are framed by technologies like the stereoscope.

Though clearly a contribution to both artistic histories of Mormonism and American art, it is difficult to deny the inevitable provocation in Campbell’s characterization of the LDS as predominantly occularcentric, where vision lies at the heart of not only its doctrine, but also becomes its very culture. Such classification does not seem to include the deeply sonic and haptic parts of the religion that creep up alongside much of her narrative. Yet there still exists a blatant insistence on the centrality of vision, a pitfall that can have its own hierarchical dogma (see Martin Jay or Jonathan Sterne, for example). At times, Campbell alludes to the aural, mentioning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s efforts to build image (through sound!), discussing the “voice” of both pictures and the women at the time, and even referring to a photograph as a “pictorial psalm” (p. 151). In a way, these seem like missed opportunities to further unpack the multi-sensorial mediation of salvation and doctrine within Mormonism.

Nevertheless, Campbell’s work serves as an example of how to deepen the conversation—of telling the history while also unfolding the embedded stakes of mediation. Through compelling juxtapositions of Mormon objects to artists and works of the time, she brings LDS art into more mainstream threads in the art historical canon and further expands it to take seriously work that has for so long existed on the margins. Rather than seeing works of art by an LDS artist sanctioned by the Mormon church as a reflection of the religion, she applies theoretical and contextual analysis to make Johnson’s images speak of a moment in American and global history. While Campbell’s work on Johnson opens avenues for discussing LDS subculture and helps bolster art history within Mormon studies, it also offers a methodology for approaching Mormon art that bridges disciplines. In the ever-growing tendency towards the multidisciplinary within academia, Campbell serves as an effective model for considering (or rather reconsidering) the role media have played in creating an image.

Amanda Beardsley
Binghamton University
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The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature. By Benjamin Morgan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. Pp.Vi + 368, 30 halftones. $35.00 (paperback).

Benjamin Morgan’s The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature employs a wide range of disciplines, such as “poetic theory, evolutionary biology, philosophical materialism, quantitative analysis, physiology, associationist psychology, and socialist aesthetics” (p. 13), to explain the complicated relationship between art and science in the nineteenth century. The book is divided into two parts, with five chapters that progress chronologically from the mid-nineteenth century to New Criticism of the twentieth century before concluding with an epilogue. In his introduction, Morgan deploys five vectors of aesthetic thought and practice, including form, response, materiality, practice, and empathy, to map the “intersection of scientific and artistic materialisms” (p. 13) across divergent disciplines.

Chapter one considers nineteenth-century Britain’s efforts to cultivate an “empirical science of beauty” (p. 29). Morgan characterizes how Victorians eschewed “their gray reputation of sober rationalism, to reappearing as a culture that at once celebrated and anxiously deplored the vibrant intensities of the senses” (p. 12). He considers the ways in which British industrialism inspired new theoretical approaches to art and the “role it could play in an emerging technological and scientific modernity” (p. 32). In contrast with John Ruskin’s (1819–1900) concept of theoria, which suggested that perceptions of beauty were relative to one’s moral and religious nature, emerging nineteenth-century scientists and writers asserted that “aesthetic experience was not . . . a moment of spiritual elevation,” but rather a moment in which “the body of the viewer and the matter of the artwork come into contact” (p. 12). Morgan analyzes the theories of sound and color proposed by George Field (1777–1854) and David Ramsay Hay (1798–1866) and traces their lineage to various members of the Edinburgh Aesthetics Club, which included John Addington Symonds, Sr. (1807–1871), Thomas Laycock (1812–1876), and E.S. Dallas (1828–1879), who measured human bodies to determine a mathematical pattern for beauty. For these theorists, “superstructures such as culture or society were understood as secondary determinants of aesthetic judgement” (p. 29). Morgan evidences the sharp antagonisms between mathematical rationalism and sensual perception, particularly at an historical juncture in which everchanging conceptions of the natural world might lead to a “definitive explanation of the human experience of beauty” (p. 33). He also offers a brief but evocative critique of Hay’s mathematical aesthetic and its relation to “scientized aesthetic theories” that inculcated “value-laden hierarchies of race and gender” (p. 65).

In chapter two, Morgan considers how literary and scientific writers, such as Alexander Bain (1818–1903), Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), Walter Pater (1839–1894), Thomas Hardy (1840–1928), and Grant Allen (1848–1899), influenced aesthetic science by rescaling and physicalizing the “primary units of analysis of aesthetic thought, turning from the human faculties to the nervous system and from the artwork to its material elements” (p. 88). These intellectuals crafted a materialized aesthetic theory that became either a “touchstone” or “flashpoint” for subsequent efforts to develop a science of beauty (p. 90). Their aesthetic visions breached the boundaries of individuated subjectivity by destabilizing the “distinctions between interior and exterior” (p. 98), human and nonhuman, past and present.

Chapter three begins Part II of the book, which focuses on “enmindedness” (p. 173) or Morgan’s “outward” turn. For psychologist James Sully (1842–1923), much like Pater, aesthetic experience enabled a new relationship between the mind and perceptual objects wherein “physical things can become objects of sympathy and love” (p. 134). Through Pater and Sully, Morgan exemplifies Victorian awareness of a “processual model of the mind” that regarded “higher-order thought [as] the product of an interaction between an organism and an environment” (p. 136). Pater characterizes this interaction as a “‘process of brain-building by which we are, each one of us, what we are’” (qtd. p. 152). Morgan suggests that Pater advanced a new configuration of the “social” that encompassed “[both] things and persons alike” (p. 172).

Morgan begins chapter four by posing a question: “what happens when somatic aesthetic experience is situated within particular social contexts?” (p. 214). In responding to this question, Morgan considers the work of Victorian designer William Morris (1834–1896), whose art was “a sort of automatic output from the embodied mind” (p. 203). Morris emphasized the “ways in which thought happens not as a disembodied mental activity but as concrete interactions between bodies and things” (p. 175). Many contemporary scholars, including Morgan, regard Morris’s conception of the “materiality of language and of art as an aspect of his socialist politics” (p. 175). Morris applied physiological aesthetics to his critique of the selfish individualism and division caused by the free market and its supporting ideological and institutional structures. Morgan aligns himself theoretically though not fully with Morris who envisioned an aesthetic mind unencumbered by individualism and “instead turned ‘outward’ into physical processes” (qtd. on p. 177). For Morris, boundaries were an effect of language rather than a limiting characteristic of the physical world and the “networks that contain and connect persons, things, bodies, and experiences” (p. 190).

Critic Vernon Lee’s (1856–1935) theory of physiological empathy is discussed in Morgan’s final chapter. Morgan explains how empathy “configures the relationship between mind and body . . . depicting bodily changes as taking place before . . . [or] directly causing aesthetic feelings” (p. 231). In difference to other physiological aesthetics that “disaggregated complex artworks into lines, curves, and angles,” Lee focused on how the “body synthesizes formal qualities as feeling” (p. 242). By unconsciously connecting with art, spectators might trigger similar memories of embodied aesthetic reactions. This empathic critical response “works across and between the arts,” but it does not erase the differences between them (p. 242). Although Lee’s aesthetics was denounced by New Critics like I. A. Richards (1893–1979), Lee and Richards each aspired to construct a “systematic, autonomous method” (p. 244) of literary criticism despite their contrasting views on the relation between reader, writer, and text. Lee was unable to reconcile the contradiction between “inhabiting a text from within” and “analyzing its structure or its place within a structured field from without” (p. 252). As Morgan notes, Lee’s approach became an alternative to more conventional forms of close reading.

Morgan’s study concludes with an epilogue in which he describes Oscar Wilde’s (1854–1900) The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) as the “period’s most renowned aesthetic object” (p. 255). Morgan offers insightful commentary on nineteenth-century aesthetic theory, and he seldom misses an opportunity to expound on his theory of “outwardness.” The Outward Mind is a well-delineated historical and theoretical map for navigating the study of Victorian aesthetics.

John C. Murray
Curry College
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Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now. By Asma Naeem, with contributions by Penley Knipe, Alexander Nemerov, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, and Anne Verplanck. Washington, DC: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, in association with Princeton University Press, 2018. ix + 192 pp. 98 color illustrations. $45.00 (cloth).

For silhouette enthusiasts, a wide-ranging and scholarly book dedicated specifically to the delicate medium whose heyday stretched over the Early National period is finally available. But even for the casual nineteenth-century historian, Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now offers a thought-provoking and relevant study of traditional portraiture’s under-appreciated blackened counterpart. The volume was published to accompany the National Portrait Gallery’s 2018–2019 exhibition of the same name, which will travel to the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson (27 April – 25 August 2019) and then to the Birmingham Museum of Art (28 September 2019 – 12 January 2020).

The book along with its accompanying exhibition primarily focuses on the nineteenth-century history and development of the silhouette medium. The curator and main author, Asma Naeem, now chief curator of the Baltimore Art Museum, compellingly uses the project to elevate the traditional status of silhouettes from mere “craftwork and quaint hobby,” to consideration as a “powerful aesthetic form” (p. 4). Naeem complicates the traditional narrative by carefully considering the many paradoxes contained within the silhouette medium. The “contradiction of mobility and fixity [silhouettes were often hung in homes but created by itinerate cutters] is but one of the many paradoxes,” which, she notes, also include “black against white, severing and totality, flatness and embodiment, opaqueness and transparency, void and likeness” (p. 3). Even though this is not a project overtly about race, as an inherently black medium that often depicted white people, a strong current of the role of silhouettes within that context emerges. Naeem probes “how . . . an art form that rendered everyone pitch black flourish[ed], particularly at a time when the very concept of ‘blackness’ was being contested as an alleged marker of inferiority or property” (p. viii). The study also describes the wide range of sitters for whom silhouette portraits were available, a much expanded demographic compared to the traditional oil portrait usually available only to elites. Naeem credits silhouettes with “democratiz[ing] portraiture well before the advent of photography in 1839” (p. viii). By rendering every sitter in similar form, the silhouette medium also democratized the populace. Ordinary citizens could obtain portraits that mirrored those of dignitaries.

The book opens with an inspiring foreword by the National Portrait Gallery’s intrepid director, Kim Sajet, who brings readers’ attention to the oppositional nature of the project, including both artists and sitters who have been “blacked out” of the art historical canon. Naeem’s introductory essay (pp. 2–43), truly the centerpiece of the book, introduces the wide-reaching implications of silhouettes. She argues that silhouettes “point to the historical complexities of the diverse fabric of our country and pry open the previously shuttered lives of early American citizens” (p. ix). The project highlights several individual silhouette makers, especially Moses Williams (1777–ca. 1825) and Martha Ann Honeywell (1786–1856). Respectively, a manumitted “mulatto,” and a woman born without arms and only three toes on one foot, they were able to garner unlikely wealth and power in their acts of cutting, and defy nineteenth-century conventions, their “instabilities temporarily subsided” (p. 14). The book also features the work of one of the most talented and prolific nineteenth-century silhouettists, Auguste Edouart (1796–1861), who spent ten years (1839–49) traveling throughout the United States, during which time, by Naeem’s count, seven of his remarkable 3,800 sitters were designated slaves.

Among sitters, two silhouetted heroes of the book and exhibition depict enslaved individuals, Flora and Sancho, who, Naeem notes, were “being presented” rather than having chosen to sit for their silhouettes, as white Americans did (p. 28). The remarkable, life-sized, and mysterious image of Flora, an enslaved woman (ca. 1796), was found in the basement of her former owner’s home in Connecticut and is now owned by Stratford Historical Society. In a much different form of silhouette, Sancho’s rare likeness appeared alongside a detailed runaway notice seeking his return, which was taken out by his owner in the Columbian Centinel newspaper (Mississippi) in 1807. The inclusion of these two silhouettes reveals the medium’s range and allows us to acknowledge two nearly forgotten individuals. Another remarkable inclusion represents the double silhouette of Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant who formed an unconventional, same-sex partnership, living and working together for forty-four years in Weybridge, Vermont (ca. 1805–1815, Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History). Naeem suggests that, “but for the silhouette form, their commingled identity as a couple could not have been visually articulated because of social codes, artistic practices, and prevailing period attitudes toward same-sex couples” (p. 33). Thus, in addition to re-writing the art historical script to include the silhouette, Naeem has worked to celebrate the wide range of artists and sitters associated with this delicate medium.

The “Now” section brings the silhouette medium into the twenty-first century. This discussion includes the work of four contemporary female artists, Kumi Yamashita, Kristi Malakoff, Camille Utterback, and Kara Walker. Yamashita uses inanimate objects to create the shadows of humans. Malakoff’s room-sized installation, Maibaum (2009), includes twenty life-sized children cut out of black paper and foam core, who dance with ribbons around a maypole as birds fly overhead. In Utterback’s work External Measures (2001–8), she “digitally tracks the bird’s-eye-view silhouette of the viewer on a vertically mounted screen” (p. 39). Of the four contemporary artists, Kara Walker’s work has the most clearly applicable place in this study. Her work “enlarges and manipulates historical aspects of silhouettes to disturbing effect” (p. 40), and her room-sized installations were a highlight of the show.

In addition to Naeem’s lengthy and overarching title essay, three short essays follow, each covering a specific aspect of the nineteenth-century medium. “Without a Trace: The Art and Life of Martha Ann Honeywell” (pp. 46–57), a brief chapter by Alexander Nemerov, highlights Honeywell’s remarkable career. Nemerov’s metaphysical consideration opens new avenues for considering Honeywell’s work, and makes intriguing connections, including between Honeywell and the character Hetty in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer (1841). Nemerov owes much of his factual evidence to scholarship by Laurel Daen (which he acknowledges), and the essay is intended as a thought-provoking meditation on Honeywell.

In clear, readable prose, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw’s “‘Interesting Characters by the Lines of Their Faces’: Moses Williams’s Profile Portrait Silhouettes of Native Americans” considers the efforts of both Moses Williams and Charles Saint-Mémin (1770–1852) “to capture and codify racial difference” during the Early Republic (p. 61) by using the mechanical tracing device known as the physiognotrace to create silhouette portraits of Native Americans even as their land was being usurped by the United States. She describes how Williams “had to negotiate complex networks of racial bias that were brought to the museum [of Charles Wilson Peale [1747–1827]) by its many visitors,” and how his memory continues to be contested by past scholars who have been hesitant to attribute silhouettes to his hand (p. 64). She ultimately concludes that, like African Americans, including Williams, “Native Americans of the period had little control over the way they were imaged or explained in the white man’s historical record” (p. 73).

In the final essay, “Shades of Black and White: American Portrait Silhouettes” (pp. 76–89), Penley Knipe documents the factual history of silhouettes in great detail, calling them “humble yet remarkable, democratic objects” (p. 89). She clarifies etymology and describes several artists’ modes of working, detailing information about materials, including handmade paper and embroidery scissors, as well as the physiognotrace. This is a fact-based essay that people with a general interest will find intriguing, and scholars will find useful.

The book’s catalogue entries (pp. 90–153) allow the viewer to experience the exhibition in book form. Material culture scholar and silhouette specialist Anne Verplanck wrote many of the clearly described entries. The catalogue images, all beautifully reproduced in color, highlight extraordinary and well-known Americans both black and white, including Absalom Jones (1746–1818) and John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), and others, such as “Mr. Shaw’s Blackman,” whose names have been lost to history but whose silhouette likenesses remain to claim their individuality. Although the ordering of the plates was most likely planned to parallel those in the exhibition, the result is that some of the information seems presented out of order. The biography of the silhouettist Auguste Edouart, for example, is buried after many other examples of his work. There is also (by necessity of the nature of the exhibition) a sudden leap from Edouart to Kara Walker. And information about Walker’s background is not included in the first entry on her work, but in the second. Necessarily, some of the information in the entries repeats that found in the catalogue essays.

Overall, Black Out is beautifully and originally designed. Unusually deep paragraph indentations are the only unwanted distraction. Like the exhibition – which seemed like two separate shows, or perhaps two shows in one – the book struggles to commingle the historical section with the contemporary, although Naeem has worked hard to make clever connections. Additionally, the catalogue entries, like the exhibition itself, are dominated by the National Portrait Gallery’s expansive collection of silhouettes by Auguste Edouart to the point of appearing like an Edouart project. Apart from these imbalances, the highlights of the book include Naeem’s clear and brilliant introduction, supported by a formidable assemblage of contributing authors. Each article stands as readable on its own and, like the volume as a whole, presents welcome knowledge and analysis of an under-appreciated medium. For her deep and thoughtful consideration of the silhouette, Naeem is to be highly commended.

Rachel Stephens
University of Alabama
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Flash! Photography, Writing, and Surprising Illumination. By Kate Flint. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xviii + 391. 145 black-and-white illustrations. $35.00 (cloth).

Kate Flint’s Flash!: Photography, Writing, and Surprising Illumination traces a history of flash photography, focusing not on a singular photographer or artistic movement but rather exploring flash as “a particular type of illumination, as a strategy, as an event” (p. 2). The book draws thoughtful connections between the nineteenth century and the present day, providing readers familiar with nineteenth-century visuality with new insight into the representative practices of the early twentieth century and beyond, while still stressing the continued legacy of Victorian visual culture. Flash! clearly differentiates itself from the wide collection of scholarship that explores the rise of photography, in that the book exposes those new, fruitful interpretative avenues that emerge when we focus not on photography in general, but on the bright light at its center.

While highlighting the spectacle of flash in the early years following its invention, Flint’s text also explores the increasingly negative views of flash that emerged as, over time, the technology grew more familiar and transformed from a shocking novelty into a largely trivial experience. Flint also reminds her readers of the diverse ways in which this technology has seeped into our cultural and linguistic registers, reflecting on links between photography and other familiar uses of the term  flash, from flashback and flashbulb memory to flash drive.

Flint’s first two chapters discuss the tendency to connect flash with concepts such as revelation, truth, insight, or the sublime. Flint exposes the contradictory nature of flash photography and its shifting cultural manifestations, demonstrating how it both illuminated the darkness and enacted perceptible changes to the scene before its lens. Flint stresses flash’s tendency to disorient and impair, as the light often reflected in nearby mirrors or bleached-out sections of the image. It also triggered distinctly somatic effects when photographic subjects recoiled or shut their eyes in reaction to the light (p. 17). By “display[ing] itself and its eruption in the darkness,” flash shatters any illusion of photography as a “transparent recording device,” thereby emphasizing its own artificiality (p. 50).

In her third and fourth chapters, Flint discusses how the instantaneous, surprising qualities of flash became enmeshed in understandings of memory and temporality. Chapter four includes a series of images that recorded previously imperceptible sights, from speeding bullets to the splashes caused by falling water droplets. Flint uses these experiments to make sense of “flash as a temporal phenomenon” (p. 88), which allows viewers to discover “the beauty of an everyday occurrence” (p. 96) while “fool[ing] us into thinking that time’s passing can, indeed, be halted” (p. 92).

Much of the remainder of the book focuses on the relationship between flash and power, as Flint exposes how flash informed the changing representation of categories such as gender, race, privacy, celebrity, and poverty. Through its ability to illuminate the “underemphasized, undervalued, and under-noticed,” flash at times proves a democratizing force through its ability to shed light on people and spaces that had been previously banished to the margins (p. 113). Jacob Riis (1849–1914) famously saw his flash photography, which illustrated the harsh realities of poverty through representations of tenement housing, as casting both literal and figurative light into the darkness (p. 102). This engaging question of the ethical power of flash emerges with particular strength in Flint’s investigation of the US Farm Security Administration’s photographs of migrant farm communities in chapter five.

But Flint also demonstrates how the technology functioned as a potentially invasive or violating force, once again emphasizing its inconsistent, slippery nature. Mid-century photographers such as Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) and Ben Shahn (1898–1969) were troubled by the medium, noting “how it broke down the privacy and self-respect of those whom they photographed” (p. 122). In chapter six, Flint examines this conflict between flash as a democratizing medium and flash as couched in problematic rhetoric “that often assumed an equation between light and revelation, and between darkness – blackness – and dirt, poverty, the abject” through analysis of representations of race in mid-twentieth century America (p. 143). Connections between gender and flash emerge in chapter seven when Flint shows how news photographers often depicted their profession, and its inherent struggle to master the dangers of flash, through emphasis on “masculine bravado” (p. 178). Flint then explores the uneven power dynamics inherent in flash’s ability to expose celebrities to the public gaze in chapter eight. But if flash proves a violating medium in the hands of these professional newsmen, in chapter nine Flint emphasizes its playful potential for amateur photographers, calling attention to “the licence . . . that photography in general, as a social pursuit, gave to dressing up and posing in staged comic set pieces, deliberately ridiculous, evidence of elaborate fun, and often involving cross-dressing and various forms of clowning for the camera” (p. 241).

As she moves into the late twentieth century, Flint highlights a growing cultural disdain for flash, along with an increasing conviction that the technology was not only “unnatural” because of its use of artificial light, but “that it also destroyed a photographer’s sense of continuity and immersion – even contemplative immersion – with their world” through its brightness, shock, and suddenness (p. 238). The atomic bomb is one particularly powerful example of flash’s connection with destructive forces. But despite an increasing distaste for the vulgar brightness and intrusiveness of flash, Flint’s final chapter reminds readers of its aesthetic power through discussion of contemporary visual art, including Hiroshi Sugimoto’s (b. 1948) Lightning Fields 128 (2009), which Flint argues taps into the “original wonder” that flash inspired in early viewers (p. 303). 

 

Flint’s richly detailed book will provide a valuable source for future study of flash among visual culture and literary scholars. Just as the text extends at times beyond its “northern transatlantic context,” to discuss regions such as Japan and South Africa, Flash! opens up space for globalized investigations of the technology, reminding us that “photography’s history is a global history” (pp. 4, 5). Overall, the text succeeds in providing not only a lively history of flash but also allowing its readers to access a little piece of the surprise and wonder that nineteenth-century viewers experienced when they first glimpsed this shocking burst of light.

Anne Summers
Manhattan College
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Picturing War in France, 1792–1856. By Katie Hornstein. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017. Pp. ix + 197, 46 black-and-white and 100 color illustrations. $70.00 (cloth).

A “double preoccupation” (p. 3) guides Katie Hornstein’s exploration of war imagery in nineteenth-century France. Her book seeks, at one level, to uncover the meanings war imagery produced about political ideologies, French military power, and nascent ideas of nationhood. In a distinct but related vein, the book also traces the evolving relationships between the multiple media that circulated these images. Hornstein draws on several theorists, notably Jacques Rancière, to buttress her argument that war imagery enabled a non-elite viewership to “forge a relationship to matters of state without necessarily having to commit themselves to official or revolutionary forms of political participation” (p. 5). In treating long-overlooked artworks as responsive to the historical circumstances of modernity, Picturing War in France joins a broader effort to recover the complexities of nineteenth-century visual culture.

Hornstein organizes the book around the regimes that governed France between the Revolutionary Wars and the Crimean War. That structure proves useful: it ties together a group of artists likely unfamiliar even to specialists, from the better-known Horace Vernet (1789–1863) and Charles Nègre (1820–80) to such obscure painters as Jean-Charles Langlois (1789–1870), Louis-François Lejeune (1775–1848), and Jean-Baptiste Henri Durand-Brager (1814–79). These once-famous artists all forged a visual language that viewers understood as “instrumental” and “antisubjective” (p. 12), closer to reportage than to art. In so doing, these artists faced frequent rebuke from critics, first from the likes of Antoine Quatremère de Quincy (1755–1849), known for his dogmatic commitment to classicism, and later from Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) and Théophile Gautier (1811–72), both of whom scorned the growing links between art and newspapers.

These “technologies of witnessing” (p. 23), as Hornstein calls the visual materials under discussion, developed in response to rapidly changing political contexts. From the ancien régime on, the topographical tradition of battle painting cobbled together various discourses to construct a veneer of truthfulness: the scientific authority of maps, the expertise conveyed by military credentials, and the special status accorded to eyewitness accounts. As militarized notions of citizenship emerged after the Revolution, the facticity of battle painting offered vicarious experiences to viewers who had few outlets to engage in warfare. But the interests of artists, critics, and particular regimes never aligned perfectly. By allegorizing concepts of political consent espoused in conservative liberalism, for example, Vernet’s The Crossing of the Arcole Bridge (1796) not only registered opposition to the Bourbon Restoration; it actively shaped it. And critics, we learn, turned to art criticism to voice their displeasure with Louis-Philippe’s embrace of bourgeois values and his propagandistic use of war imagery.

If this analysis of artistic commentary during the July Monarchy strains to unearth political subtext, one suspects it is because Hornstein’s real interest lies elsewhere. She devotes considerably more attention in the book’s second half to untangling the relations between battle paintings and new media. By the 1830s, both artists and critics considered panoramas a vehicle to transcend the stagnant genre of battle painting. Appealing to a mass audience, Langlois, for one, constructed multilayered representations of battles, combining in spectacular fashion panoramas, physical debris, and veterans-turned-guides (or “living debris” [p. 108], as one critic wrote). That competition, of course, spurred innovations among painters, as well: Vernet went so far as to adopt a triptych format in his Siege of Constantine (1837) to simulate a panoramic scope.

The concerns that led critics to dismiss battle paintings constitute a common thread in all these debates. As Hornstein persuasively demonstrates, critics were sensitive to the tension between part and whole, an analogy that could refer equally to visual details and the overall composition that organizes them or to small skirmishes and the larger conflict in which they occurred. On the one hand, a reliance on minor incidents and a lack of narrative unity contravened the longstanding academic dictum that compelled history painting to elevate viewers beyond the quotidian. Battle painting instead functioned as history painting’s opposite, at once contemporary, narratively ambiguous, and ostensibly documentary. On the other, critics were responding to the ever-increasing visual accompaniments in journals, epitomized by the launch of L’Illustration in 1843, which strove to record the totality of war that so eluded paintings and panoramas. Overly ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful, proponents of photography vaunted its power to capture events like the Crimean War through the “fantasy” of a comprehensive photographic archive (p. 137). Equally significant, if not fully answered, are questions about media specificity and the adaptability of discourse that lurk just beneath this discussion’s surface.

Beyond its argumentation, the book makes a good case for the methodology it employs. Hornstein revels in often intricate, always illuminating visual analyses of remarkably varied materials. Insights from Roland Barthes’s “reality effect,” moreover, elucidate the significance of otherwise minor pictorial details. Hornstein supplements these observations with a broad knowledge of military history, meticulous research on art criticism, and a strong command of the artistic, political, and institutional contexts in which war imagery operated. These strengths support a larger brief: that art history is enriched when it examines critically the materials jettisoned by modernism. If Jane Thompkins arrived at a similar point many years ago, it bears repeating in the context of art history, where the modernist narrative remains stubbornly resistant to change.

Yet the parts of Picturing War in France never cohere into the whole Hornstein promises. Her argument that pictures reconfigured politics morphs and then disappears in the third chapter only to resurface in the conclusion. This failure to deliver on the book’s central thesis coincides with a number of related problems. Though generally acute, Hornstein’s vision of politics at times flattens differences between distinct forms of opposition, and it leaves little room for the cultural politics of gender that clearly impinge on her subject. Notwithstanding occasional references to women at the Salon and veterans at print shops, the publics that negotiated these politics, as Hornstein admits, exist only as abstractions. And while she can hardly be faulted for what remains a vexing issue in reception theory, the impulse to conflate popularity with political salience, as when she asserts that The Crossing of the Arcole Bridge “resonated with audiences because of the alluring model of the agency of the collective it depicted” (p. 74), misses the mark. These criticisms aside, Hornstein makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of art, war, and media in the nineteenth century, one that confronts the unsettling place of war imagery in modern life.  

Joshua M. Smith
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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American Travel Literature, Gendered Aesthetics, and the Italian Tour, 1824–1862. By Bailey Brigitte. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

In her 1845 work, “An Incident in Rome,” Catharine Maria Sedgwick observes,

But to the Roman campagna change of season brings no change. In the spring when, elsewhere, there is a general resurrection of vegetable life—a joyous beginning of the procession of the year—this unchanging aspect of the campagna is most solemn. When all the rest of Italy, as far as nature is concerned, has the beauty, gladness and promise of youth, is in truth a paradise regained, there are here no springing corn, no budding vine-stalks, no opening blossoms, scarcely a bird’s note.

Juxtaposing the monumental solemnity of Rome with the verdant splendor of the Italian countryside, Sedgwick feminizes the landscape, referring to it as a mistress (though not a fitting one), and contrasting it both with Rome’s fragments and Lady C.’s “snarling, barking, arrogant [English] countrymen.”

Reflecting on gendered aesthetics and the Italian landscape in antebellum tourist writing, Brigitte Bailey’s new book, American Travel Literature, Gendered Aesthetics, and the Italian Tour, 1824-1862 (2018) uncovers numerous such examples of American writers gendering the Italian landscape. Bailey argues both that tourism is a “modern nation-producing genre” and that Anglo-American travel writing contributed to a transatlantic “trope of Italy as woman” (p. 4, 9). Bailey begins with a chapter on Washington Irving’s travel writing, specifically arguing that Irving’s first European tour “is an exercise in acquiring and reproducing an elite cultural perspective through the ‘mechanism’ of aesthetic response” (p. 17). But, quoting his writings extensively, Bailey ably shows that while Irving’s understanding of the tour as social mediator changes over time, Irving’s image of Italy as a “feminized and idealized landscape” emphasized values “which the commercial and pragmatic U.S. … believed itself to have marginalized” (p. 65).

This conceit—that American tourists contrast the feminine of Italian landscape with masculine Anglo-American republicanism—is the lynchpin of Bailey’s monograph. In addition to Irving, Bailey uncovers this trope in authors and painters like James Fenimore Cooper, Thomas Cole, Caroline Kirkland, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Of particular interest is Bailey’s fresh reading of Fuller. In “Fuller and Revolutionary Rome: Republican and Urban Imaginaries,” Bailey argues that Fuller counters the literary trope of Italy as woman by focusing on urban spaces and post-Revolutionary Italian republicans, an emphasis associated more with Anglo-American masculinity than pastoral Italian femininity. According to Bailey, “Fuller’s dispatches invoke and address these habits of looking and representing; disturbed that American views of Italians are too often defined by the perspectives of genre painting, which turned its subjects into types, and conscious that she may be witnessing originating moments—‘birth events’—in the national narrative of a unified Italy, Fuller tries to train her readers to shift from genre perspectives to something like the perspective of history painting, to move from the timeless and static images of pastoral innocence to images which evoke the grand (masculine) narrative of history in the making” (p. 169). It is this kind of analysis that makes American Travel Literature an important contribution to the field. Bailey argues that through travel writing, antebellum American authors forged a national identity and “offered a pedagogy of identity in which middle- and upper-class citizens learned to use vision both to encounter and to control difference and, therefore, to confirm their function as bearers and shapers of the American social vision” (p. 114). Each of Bailey’s chapters places antebellum writers into conversation with their contemporaries in the visual arts, and this allows for perceptive analyses of the aesthetic values travel writers helped create and reinforce back home.

Weaving insightful criticism about nineteenth-century travel writing into larger debates about art history and aesthetics, Bailey’s monograph is valuable for interdisciplinary scholars of the nineteenth century. If the prose occasionally suffers under the weight of theoretical abstraction, it is doubtless because of Bailey’s need to merge the argot of literary criticism, art history, and aesthetic philosophy. Bailey’s contribution is also significant because of the variety of sources she draws upon from primary authors: she provides evidence from journals, letters, short stories, novels, and periodicals. Importantly, the monograph also includes dozens of works of art, each of which Bailey uses to demonstrate the connection between Italy and gendered aesthetics. In her conclusion, Bailey remarks that “the dialect of motion and arrest, word and image, disembodied eye and excessively embodied landscapes and peoples, results in a form of writing that escapes nineteenth-century definitions of rational and purposeful rhetoric and that tries to approximate visual response…” (pp. 248–249). American Travel Literature skillfully defends this claim, emphasizing interesting and overlooked connections between gender, aesthetics, and nineteenth-century travel writing on Italy and how this writing helped writers and readers work through the complexity of forging a national identity in antebellum America.

Brandon Katzir
Oklahoma City University
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