This talk is about editing and the afterlives of photographs. It takes as its subject the photographic book 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States. A collaboration between the novelist Richard Wright and the photo-editor Edwin Rosskam, the book, which was published to great acclaim in 1941, made use of the Farm Security Administration archive to rewrite American history. Of central concern will be the book’s commitment to telling the story of the migrations of the 1930s as a story of slavery, not the Depression. What happens to our histories of documentary, I ask, when the latter referent slips out of focus? Or to pose this question otherwise: What does this book tell us about the ways in which we have historicized the Farm Security Administration archive? What other histories of America does it hold or could it still produce?
Stephanie Schwartz is a Lecturer in History of Art at University College London. Her writing on photography and film has appeared in October, Oxford Art Journal and ARTMargins. She was recently awarded a Creative Capital Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant to write ‘Martha Rosler: Seeing the Screen’, an essay on the politics of disclosure. Stephanie is also working on a related project on protest photography. Her initial consideration of subject appeared in her Tate Modern In Focus study of Allan Sekula’s Waiting for Tear Gas [White Globe to Black](1999-2000).
Organised by Professor David Peters Corbett (The Courtauld Institute of Art)