Study in Black and White: Photography, Race, Humor (Hardback)
  • Study in Black and White: Photography, Race, Humor (Hardback)

Study in Black and White: Photography, Race, Humor (Hardback)

Hardback 216 Pages / Published: 26/11/2018
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In this volume, Tanya Sheehan takes humor seriously in order to trace how photographic comedy was used in America and transnationally to express evolving ideas about race, black emancipation, and civil rights in the mid-1800s and into the twentieth century.

Sheehan employs a trove of understudied materials to write a new history of photography, one that encompasses the rise of the commercial portrait studio in the 1840s, the popularization of amateur photography around 1900, and the mass circulation of postcards and other photographic ephemera in the twentieth century. She examines the racial politics that shaped some of the most essential elements of the medium, from the negative-positive process to the convention of the photographic smile. The book also places historical discourses in relation to contemporary art that critiques racism through humor, including the work of Genevieve Grieves, Adrian Piper, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker, and Fred Wilson.

By treating racial humor about and within the photographic medium as complex social commentary, rather than a collectible curiosity, Study in Black and White enriches our understanding of photography in popular culture. Transhistorical and interdisciplinary, this book will be of vital interest to scholars of art history and visual studies, critical race studies, U.S. history, and African American studies.

Publisher: Pennsylvania State University Press
ISBN: 9780271081106
Number of pages: 216
Weight: 1134 g
Dimensions: 241 x 216 x 241 mm


"Working at the intersection of race, humor, and photography studies, this important new book supplies a new lens through which to view all of these disciplines. Tanya Sheehan has taken the field of racialized humor in an original direction through a rigorous and nuanced examination of the impact of photography upon visual humor from the nineteenth century to the present. Particularly fascinating is Sheehan's consideration of camera comedy and the minstrel stage, both in America and abroad. Eminently readable, Study in Black and White is both appealing and illuminating."

-Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

"Readers of American art and visual culture interested in critical race studies, transnational exchange, and the movement of ideas between media, particularly performance and visual art, will benefit from Sheehan's historically grounded and convincing accounts that offer new perspectives on US racial discourse within and through photography."

"A remarkable reflection on photography and performance in cultural history. By reexamining humor and questioning popular images that demoralized and uplifted the black portrait in early photography, Tanya Sheehan introduces her unease as a reader of such imagery while interweaving the scholar's critical eye on representations of black people globally and over time. Brilliant and pioneering!"

-Deborah Willis, author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present

"Ubiquitous and often insidious, racial humor is a pervasive form of American cultural expression. Tanya Sheehan's insightful and well-researched Study in Black and White: Photography, Race, Humor moves beyond the laughs to examine how humor in the photographic medium has been employed and deployed as an agent, a conduit, and a dog whistle in America's complex negotiation of race and representation."

-Adrienne L. Childs, Associate, W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center, Harvard University

"Sheehan's account of race, humor, and commercial photography warrants an attentive hearing from researchers and teachers who are seeking to understand the politics of race as it unfolds on the streets and in social media-in years past and in the days to come."

-Chris Dingwall, American Historical Review

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