Elspeth Brown,

Historian: markets, visual culture, gender, sexuality

Feeling Photography

Feeling Photography is a collection of essays that poses a series of questions central to studies in affect and photography. We see three pressing reasons for focusing on feeling and photography now. First, though this question presupposes that feeling is a new analytic, it has long been central to the history and theory of photography, in both the production and viewing of images. Attention to feeling in the long history of photography will bring new questions to topics long 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 is one of this volume’s many central concerns. Indeed, by bringing the insights afforded by the affective turn to photography, we hope to inspire a new account of the medium’s history.

Second, taking account of affect, emotion, and feeling allow 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 promises to bring 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 frees 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 is to account for the marginalized subjects such as women and racialized groups, who are conspicuously excluded in approaches that focus solely on thinking. 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.