Study in Black and White
Photography, Race, Humor
By (author) Tanya Sheehan
Publication date:26 November 2018
Length of book:216 pages
PublisherPenn State University Press
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.
—Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University