Sunday, February 16, 2014

Catherine Zuromskis's "Snapshot Photography"

Catherine Zuromskis is Assistant Professor of Art History at UNM with a focus on photography, contemporary art, and twentieth-century American visual culture.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images, and reported the following:
At first glance, page 99 may seem to have very little to do with the snapshot photographs that are the central object of my book. Page 99 discusses literary scholar Lauren Berlant’s concept of infantile citizenship—the idea that American political culture is heavily invested in the figure of the child both as a symbol of innocence and the national future and as an iconic victim in need of constant monitoring and protection. As such, Berlant suggests, the seemingly innocuous representation of the child is often heavily weighted with ideological baggage, thinly veiling a ferocious dedication to American patriotism and family values.

Snapshot Photography is a book about photographs, but it is also a book about the way that personal and private images have broader public meanings. Though we often think of snapshots as the kinds of images we make just for ourselves, my book argues that the kinds of images we make—who we photograph, how, and when—and the way we use them, are guided by a strict sense of cultural convention. We encounter snapshots everywhere in mass culture: in advertisements, in movies and on TV, in political coverage of politicians, and even in picture frames we buy at the store. Whether or not we are conscious of it, these representations guide us to photograph a certain way, and in so doing to reinforce a dominant narrative about family life in contemporary American culture.

And at the center of that narrative is the child. The child is perhaps the most frequent subject of snapshot photography. Indeed, to leave the lens cap on during a child’s formative moments could be construed as bad parenting. To get to the root of why these images really are so important socially and politically as well as personally, my book explores both private photographs and those that find their way into the public spaces of popular culture and fine art. Ultimately, I find that the snapshot constitutes both a form of cultural conformity and a collective social force by making the private, public and the personal, political.
Learn more about Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images at the MIT Press website.

Writers Read: Catherine Zuromskis.

--Marshal Zeringue