Feeling Photography

Duke University Press, 2014, edited by Elspeth H. Brown and Thy Phu.

Feeling Photography is a collection of essays that poses a series of questions central to studies in affect and photography. When editing this collection, we saw three pressing reasons for focusing on feeling and photography. First, we argued that feeling had long been central to photography's history and theory, but had been sidelined due to modernism’s antipathy towards emotion (19th century combination printing, à la Oscar Rejlander, is one such example). Because affect and emotions have been key to the production of photography itself, investigating feeling as modernism’s other emerged one of this volume’s many central concerns.

Second, taking account of affect, emotion, and feeling allowed us to focus on practices of viewing. Building on (rather than jettisoning) the insights of the 1980s scholarship that has emphasized the role of institutions in the production of state discourses, a turn to affect has brought a formerly marginalized attention to reception in the production of photographic meaning. The affective turn solicits re-engagement, in other words, with the politics of viewing, with what Susan Sontag called the “moral feelings” embedded in the specific historical circumstances of the viewer’s engagement with the image.

Third, emerging in the wake of critical race theory, queer studies, postcolonial theory, and the feminist engagement with the relationship between representation and intimacy, the affective turn enables photography scholars to tie older concerns with political economy and power to marginalized analytic categories that we can no longer ignore, as much as we might wish for a world in which they no longer mattered. In attending to feeling, one of our aims has been to account for the marginalized subjects such as women and racialized groups, who are often conspicuously absent from photography's other theorizations. The rubric of feeling promises to link the older photographic criticism’s attention to power and historical materialism with new questions concerning racial formation, colonialism, post-industrial economies, gender, and queer counterpublics.

Feeling Photography features work by Elizabeth Abel, Kimberly Juanita Brown, Lisa Cartwright, Lily Cho, Ann Cvetkovich, David Eng, Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer, Christopher Pinney, Marlis Schweitzer, Dana Seitler, Tanya Sheehan, Shawn Michelle Smith, and Diana Taylor. For a table of contents, click here.

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