Photography

Q&A with William Craft Brumfield

Brumfield with BookWilliam Craft Brumfield is Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University. Brumfield, who began photographing Russia in 1970, is the foremost authority in the West on Russian architecture. He is the author, editor, and photographer of numerous books, including Architecture at the End of the Earth: Photographing the Russian North and Lost Russia: Photographing the Ruins of Russian Architecture, both also published by Duke University Press. In 2019 he was awarded the Russian state Order of Friendship medal—the highest decoration of the Russian Federation given to foreign nationals—for his study and promotion of Russia’s cultural legacy. Brumfield’s photographs of Russian architecture have been exhibited at numerous galleries and museums and are part of the Image Collections at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. In this Q&A, he discusses his new book Journeys through the Russian Empire: The Photographic Legacy of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, a lavishly illustrated volume featuring hundreds of full-color images of Russian architecture and landscapes taken by early-twentieth-century photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky juxtaposed against those of his own.

Tell us about Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky and why he embarked on his photographic journeys.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky was born in 1863 on his family’s estate in central Russia. As a member of the middle nobility, he received a good education with emphasis on technical subjects. Study in Germany and France deepened his research in chemistry, optics and color theory with the goal of creating a camera for color images. Taking a prototype developed by the German chemist Adolf Miethe, Prokudin-Gorsky devised a reliable, if cumbersome, camera.

978-1-4780-0602-2Yet Prokudin-Gorsky did not stop with the invention, which he saw as the means to an end. He conceived a grand project that would apply the technology to photographic documentation of the Russian Empire in its vast diversity. During the decade before World War I he engaged in a blur of activity in the sphere of professional photography, primarily in St. Petersburg.

For posterity, however, the main legacy was his documentary campaigns that extended from the Caucasus to Central Asia to the White Sea. Between 1903 and 1916 he traveled over a dauntingly large part of the Russian Empire and took some 3,000 photographs with the process, which involved three exposures on a glass plate. 1909 was a particularly significant year for his work. In May Tsar Nicholas II invited the photographer to the imperial residence at Tsarskoe Selo to show his images of Russia through an elaborate projector. Following this presentation, Prokudin-Gorsky gained the support of the imperial court to continue his travels. The august patronage accelerated the pace of the photographer’s work, which received essential logistical support from the Ministry of Transportation.

We can assume that Prokudin-Gorsky believed in the Russian Empire as a force for enlightenment and technical progress. At the same time, he could not have been unaware of fundamental threats to the empire’s stability, including the 1905 revolution. I explore this ambivalence in the book’s concluding essay, “Over the Abyss”. After the revolutions of 1917, Prokudin-Gorsky seems to have accommodated himself to the new Soviet regime, but with the assassination of Nicholas and his family in July 1918, the photographer left Russia the following month, never to return. (Shockingly, one of his Yekaterinburg photographs includes the house in whose basement the murders occurred.) He ultimately resettled in France and regained a large part of his collection of glass negatives. Following his death in Paris in September 1944, his heirs sold the collection to the Library of Congress in 1948.

What is special and unusual about Prokudin-Gorsky’s photographic techniques?

The exposure process required an elongated, chemically treated glass plate that dropped in three steps past a lens. Different color filters were placed in front of the lens for each of the three exposures. It was something of a Rube Goldberg device, but when the three exposures were combined (through a projector or in the lab), the process produced images of remarkable quality. The lens and the process had their inherent limitations, but Prokudin-Gorsky’s mastery transcended them.

Why do you think Prokudin-Gorsky’s work resonates so much with Russians today?

Many reasons. Pride that yet another Russian proved such an adept inventor. Then there is the fascination with the sheer unexpected beauty of the images. Most importantly, perhaps, his work allows them to reconnect on so many levels with their heritage, and especially with a vision of that heritage before the cataclysms of the 1917 revolutions, a massively destructive civil war and the upheavals that followed in Soviet history during the 20th century. The photographs allow them to reconnect with a profoundly important part of their identity. There is a great thirst among many Russians of whatever generation to regain a sense of cultural and historical connectedness. When the Prokudin-Gorsky collection was made available online by the Library of Congress, a floodgate of emotion and interest was opened. These pre-revolutionary images suggest something indelibly Russian that has persisted notwithstanding the cataclysms of the 20th century. To be sure, this reconnection is not a simple matter I discuss some of the ambiguities in the introductory essay, and I return to them in the conclusion.

What inspired you to juxtapose your own photographs with Prokudin-Gorsky’s? 

Actually, the project was an unexpected gift, a commission from the Library of Congress in 1985. Before then I had only a vague impression of his work; but after the appearance in October 1984 of my first book, Gold in Azure: One Thousand Years of Russian Architecture, word got around Washington that I had traveled widely in Russia and knew something about photography. One thing led to another, and in the summer of 1985 I was invited by the Library of Congress to curate the first exhibit devoted to Prokudin-Gorsky’s work. That exhibit opened at the Library in 1986, and subsequently traveled to museums around the country. From the first moments of work with his collection, I was astounded by the discovery that I had covered much of the same territory, including the fabled Central Asian cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. My mantra became, “I too have seen this.”

What challenges did you encounter while photographing these Russian landmarks?

 A thorough answer to this question would require a separate book. There have been so many improbable journeys during the half-century range of my work in the former Soviet Union and in Russia specifically—for example, my trip to Uzbekistan as a graduate student in May 1972. This greatest possible treasure was part of a final trip arranged at the end of the academic year by the Foreign Section of Leningrad State University. The itinerary, unimaginable today, included the astounding monuments of Islamic architecture in Uzbekistan, the three Caucasus republics, and the Ukrainian port of Odessa. I was the only American who joined the small group. Most of my compatriots were energetically completing archival research, microfilming, and additional scholarly duties. I, however, was giddy at the prospect of going to Central Asia. To this day I do not understand how anyone with an ounce of curiosity about the planet could not have gone.

samarkand

Gur Emir (Timurid mausoleum). West
view after thunderstorm. Brumfield, May 16, 1972.

For all the rigors of traveling on our risible budget, the trip proved from a photographic point of view to be one of the most rewarding in my life. Imagine my astonishment in the summer of 1985 when I opened the Prokudin-Gorsky albums of contact prints at the Library of Congress and saw his photographs of Samarkand and Bukhara taken some six decades before my own. I witnessed those architectural monuments in much the same state as he did at the beginning of the 20th century. With the appearance of Journeys, those 1972 photographs of Samarkand and Bukhara—a very different culture from the one I usually study—will finally reach the public.

Another challenging area in my photographic work was the Russian North, historically defined as the area around the White Sea, Here again, my documentary campaigns overlapped with the journeys of Prokudin-Gorsky almost a century earlier, including his final Russian journey in 1916 (the subject of Chapter Eight). Especially rich in wooden architecture, the North could be a difficult environment for photographic work, not only because of the distances over poor roads, but also due to the climate variations. The summer in that Arctic region has its own lyrical beauty (together with swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes), yet the extremes of winter yielded some of the most distinctive photographs. Days of trudging with cameras through snow in intense cold were followed with evenings near the crackling heat of wood-burning brick stoves. And there were  a few convivial toasts.

At the same time, during the late 1990s, I embarked on what in was in geographical terms by far the largest expansion of my regional field work. The vehicle for this expansion, which would ultimately take me through the Urals and Siberia to Russia’s Far Eastern port of Vladivostok, was an Internet project titled “Meeting of Frontiers,” initiated by James Billington, the librarian of Congress, with the support of the US Congress and major libraries of the Russian Federation. The project’s basic premise consisted of many parallels between the transcontinental destinies of the United States and Russia: the Russians move east, the Americans move west; they come into contact (occasionally violent and exploitative) with aboriginal peoples; they build railroads; and they create narratives—with substantial elements of myth—about their respective Pacific destinies.

In 1998, Billington asked me as a photographer and a specialist in Russian architecture to create a photographic component that would illustrate and illuminate this epic movement as reflected in the architecture of settlements along the way east. My relations with the library had always been productive and included my work in 1985–86 as guest curator for the first traveling exhibit of the photographs of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. I was, therefore, convinced of the program’s potential and its impact on my field work.

Between 1999 and 2002, I made five trips over territory that extended from the European approaches to the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok, at the southeastern tip of Russia. Each trip brought extraordinary gains in my knowledge of Russia, and each made exhaustive demands on my endurance. I should add that during my travels in Siberia, as in the Russian North, I was often met with a degree of generous hospitality that threatened to overwhelm my work. Not coincidentally, “Meeting of Frontiers” allowed me to expand my earlier Prokudin-Gorsky work at the Library by visiting the areas that he photographed in the Urals and Western Siberia.

belozersk

Children with Church of Saint Paraskeva in background.
Prokudin-Gorsky 21067. Summer 1909.

Do you have a favorite photograph by Prokudin-Gorsky?

It is difficult to choose one, because they are so varied and so rich. Favorite in what sense? In what category? I specialize in Russia’s architectural heritage, which is so vividly presented in his work. Yet the photograph that haunts my memory is the one with children sitting on a levee in Belozersk. They are squinting in the late afternoon sun. Behind them is the dome of the Church of St. Paraskeva, ruined during the Soviet period (as my corresponding photograph shows), His photograph was taken in 1909, and I could not help but wonder what happened to those children in the following decades, decades that brought such unending trials to Russia.

Read the introduction to Journeys through the Russian Empire free online and save 30% on the book with coupon code E20BRMFL.

New Books in July

We are now mid-way through the summer, and it’s not too late to stock up on books to add to your summer reading list. Check out these brand new titles coming out in July!

978-1-4780-0602-2Journeys through the Russian Empire is a lavishly illustrated volume that features hundreds of full-color images of Russian architecture and landscapes taken by early-twentieth-century photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky and juxtaposed against those of contemporary photographer and scholar William Craft Brumfield. Together their images document Russia’s architectural, artistic, and cultural heritage. This one will look gorgeous on your coffee table!

The contributors to Paper Trails, edited by Sarah B. Horton and Josiah Heyman, examine migrants’ relationship to the state through requirements to obtain identification documents in order to get legal status.

978-1-4780-0954-2Written for humanities graduate students and the faculty they study with, Katina L. Rogers’s Putting the Humanities PhD to Work grounds practical career advice in a nuanced consideration of how graduate training can lead to meaningful and significant careers beyond the academy.

In Keith Haring’s Line, Ricardo Montez traces the drawn and painted line that was at the center of Keith Haring’s artistic practice, engaging with Haring’s messy relationships to race-making and racial imaginaries.

In ¡Presente!, Diana Taylor offers the theory of presente as a model of standing by and with victims of structural and endemic violence by being physically and politically present in situations where it seems that nothing can be done.

978-1-4780-0945-0Drawing  on numerous interviews with artists, dealers, and curators, in Latinx Art Arlene Dávila explores how and why the contemporary international art market continues to overlook, devalue, and marginalize Latinx art and artists.

In The Wombs of Women, Françoise Vergès examines the scandal of white doctors forcefully terminating the pregnancies of thousands of poor women of color on the French island of Réunion during the 1960s, showing how they resulted from the legacies of the racialized violence of slavery and colonialism.

In Embodying Relation, Allison Moore examines the tensions between the local and the global in the art photography movement that blossomed in Bamako, Mali, in the 1990s, showing contemporary Malian photography to be a rich example of Western notions of art meeting traditional cultural precepts to forge new artistic forms, practices, and communities.

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New Books in March

Spring is just around the corner—so it’s time to stock up on books for a whole new season of reading. Check out all of these titles arriving in March!

In I Never Left Home, poet and revolutionary Margaret Randall tells the moving, captivating, and astonishing story of her life, from her childhood in New York to joining the Sandanista movement in Nicaragua, from escaping political repression in Mexico to raising a family and teaching college.

Demanding Images is Karen Strassler’s ethnography of Indonesia’s post-authoritarian public sphere, exploring the role of public images as they gave visual form to the ideals, aspirations, and anxieties of democracy.

Focusing on a wide range of media technologies and practices in Beijing, Underglobalization by Joshua Neves examines the cultural politics of the “fake” and how frictions between legality and legitimacy propel dominant models of economic development and political life in contemporary China.

A writing manual as well as a manifesto, Every Day I Write the Book combines novelist and essayist Amitava Kumar’s practical writing advice with interviews with prominent writers, offering guidance and inspiration for academic writers at all levels.

In Negative Exposures, Margaret Hillenbrand explores how artistic appropriations of historical images effectively articulate the openly unsayable and counter the public secrecy that erases traumatic episodes from China’s past.

The contributors to Visualizing Fascism, edited by Julia Adeney Thomas and Geoff Eley, examine the imagery and visual rhetoric of interwar fascism in East Asia, southern Africa, and Europe to explore how fascism was visualized as a global and aesthetic phenomenon.

In his new book-length prose poem, The Voice in the Headphones, musician David Grubbs draws on decades of recording experience, taking readers into the recording studio to tell the story of an unnamed musician who struggles to complete a film soundtrack in a day-long marathon recording session.

Rahul Mukherjee explores how the media coverage of and debates about nuclear power plants and cellular phone antennas in India frames and sustains environmental activism in Radiant Infrastructures.

Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky theorizes the process genre—a filmic genre characterized by its representation of chronologically ordered steps in which some form of labor results in a finished product—in The Process Genre.

In The Queer Games Avant-Garde, Bonnie Ruberg presents twenty interviews with twenty-two queer video developers whose radical, experimental, vibrant, and deeply queer work is driving a momentous shift in the medium of video games.

Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas traces how parenting practices among urban elites in Brazil and Puerto Rico preserve and reproduce white privilege and economic inequality in Parenting Empires.

In Rock | Water | Life, Lesley Green examines the interwoven realities of inequality, racism, colonialism, and environmental destruction in South Africa, calling for environmental research and governance to transition to an ecopolitical approach that could address South Africa’s history of racial oppression and environmental exploitation.

Matt Brim shifts queer studies away from sites of elite education toward poor and working-class students and locations in Poor Queer Studies, showing how the field is driven by those flagship institutions that perpetuate class and race inequity in higher education.

In Paris in the Dark, Eric Smoodin takes readers on a journey through the streets, cinemas, and theaters of Paris to sketch a comprehensive picture of French film culture during the 1930s and 1940s.

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New Books in February

This month, we’re releasing an array of new reads in all of the subjects you love. Take a look at these new books coming this February!

The concluding volume in a poetic triptych, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub: Finding Ceremony takes inspiration from theorist Sylvia Wynter, dub poetry, and ocean life to offer a catalog of possible methods for remembering, healing, listening, and living otherwise.

In Wild Blue Media, Melody Jue destabilizes terrestrial-based media theory frameworks and reorients the perception of the world by considering the ocean itself as a media environment—a place where the weight and opacity of seawater transforms how information is created, stored, transmitted, and perceived.

In The Ocean in the School, Rick Bonus tells the stories of Pacific Islander students at the University of Washington as they and their allies struggled to transform a university they believed did not value their presence into a space based on meaningfulness, respect, and multiple notions of student success.

In Orozco’s American Epic, Mary K. Coffey examines José Clemente Orozco’s mural cycle Epic of American Civilization, which indicts history as complicit in colonial violence and questions the claims of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the Mexican desire to mend the wounds of conquest in pursuit of a postcolonial national project.

Nandita Sharma traces the development of the categories of migrants and natives from the nineteenth century to the present in Home Rule to theorize how the idea of people’s rights being tied to geographical notions of belonging came to be.

In Unfixed, Jennifer Bajorek traces the relationship between photography and decolonial politics in Francophone west Africa in the years immediately leading up to and following independence from French colonial rule in 1960, showing how photography both reflected and actively contributed to social and political change.

In Are You Entertained?, a collection of essays, interviews, visual art, and artist statements on topics ranging from music and dance to Black Twitter and the NBA’s dress code, the contributors consider what culture and Blackness mean in the twenty-first century’s digital consumer economy. This volume is edited by Simone C. Drake and Dwan K. Henderson.

In Musicophilia in Mumbai, Tejaswini Niranjana traces the place of Hindustani classical music in Mumbai throughout the long twentieth century, showing how the widespread love of music throughout the city created a culture of collective listening and social subjects who embodied new forms of modernity.

Focusing on the work of a Marxist anticolonial literary group active in India between the 1930s and 1950s, Neetu Khanna rethinks the project of decolonization in The Visceral Logics of Decolonization by showing how embodied and affective responses to colonial subjugation provide the catalyst for developing revolutionary consciousness.

Contributors to Queer Korea, edited by Todd A. Henry, offer interdisciplinary analyses of non-normative sexuality and gender nonconformity in Korea, extending individualized notions of queer neoliberalism beyond those set in Western queer theory.

Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics and film from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal postsocialist China in Urban Horror.

The contributors to Affective Trajectories examine the mutual and highly complex entwinements between religion and affect in urban Africa in the early twenty-first century, tracing the myriad ways religious ideas, practices, and materialities interact with affect to configure life in urban African spaces. This collection is edited by Hansjörg Dilger, Astrid Bochow, Marian Burchardt, and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon.

In Naked Agency, Naminata Diabate explores how the deployment of defiant nakedness by mature women in Africa challenges longstanding assumptions about women’s political agency.

From The Guiding Light to Passions, Elana Levine traces the history of daytime television soap operas as an innovative and highly gendered mass cultural form in Her Stories.

In Seeing by Electricity, Doron Galili traces television’s early history, from the fantastical devices initially imagined fifty years before the first television prototypes to the emergence of broadcast television in the 1930s, showing how television was always discussed and treated in relation to cinema.

Jeremy Packer and Joshua Reeves provide a critical account of the history and future of automation in warfare in Killer Apps by highlighting the threats posed by the latest advances in media technology and artificial intelligence.

Originally published in German in 1978 and appearing here in English for the first time, the second volume of Peter Weiss’s three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance depicts anti-fascist resistance, radical proletarian political movements, and the relationship between art and resistance from the late 1930s to World War II.

Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop by Sarah Eckhardt accompanies the exhibition of the photography of Virginia artist Louis Draper and other members of the Kamoinge Workshop that opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in February 2020. We are distributing it for the museum.

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New Books in January

If one of your resolutions for 2020 is to read more books, we’ve got you covered. Ring in the new year with these captivating new releases!

In Beneath the Surface, Lynn M. Thomas constructs a transnational history of skin lighteners in South Africa and beyond, theorizing skin and skin color as a site for antiracist struggle and lighteners as a technology of visibility that both challenges and entrenches racial and gender hierarchies.

Weaving U.S. history into the larger fabric of world history, the contributors to Crossing Empires de-exceptionalize the American empire, placing it in a global transimperial context as a way to grasp the power relations that shape imperial formations. This collection is edited by Kristin L. Hoganson and Jay Sexton.

Engaging contemporary photography by Sally Mann, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, and others, Shawn Michelle Smith traces how historical moments come to be known photographically and the ways in which the past continues to inhabit, punctuate, and transform the present through the photographic medium in Photographic Returns.

Spanning the centuries between pre-contact indigenous Haiti to the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the selections in The Haiti Reader introduce readers to Haiti’s dynamic history and culture from the viewpoint of Haitians from all walks of life. This volume is edited by Laurent Dubois, Kaiama L. Glover, Nadève Ménard, Millery Polyné, and Chantalle F. Verna.

The contributors to Futureproof (edited by D. Asher Ghertner, Hudson McFann, and Daniel M. Goldstein) examine the affective and aesthetic dimensions of security infrastructures and technology with studies ranging from Jamaica and Jakarta to Colombia and the US-Mexico border.

Examining abjection in a range of visual and material culture, the contributors to Abjection Incorporated move beyond critiques of abjection as a punitive form of social death to theorizing how it has become a means to acquire political and cultural capital in the twenty-first century. This volume is edited by Maggie Hennefeld and Nicholas Sammond.

Margaret E. Dorsey and Miguel Díaz-Barriga argue that border wall construction along the U.S.–Mexico border manifests transformations in citizenship practices that are aimed not only at keeping migrants out but also enmeshing citizens into a wider politics of exclusion in Fencing in Democracy.

In Politics of Rightful Killing, Sima Shakhsari analyzes the growth of Weblogistan—the online and real-life transnational network of Iranian bloggers in the early 2000s—and the ways in which despite being an effective venue for Iranians to pursue their political agendas, it was the site for surveillance, cooptation, and self-governance.

In Invisibility by Design, Gabriella Lukács traces how young Japanese women’s unpaid labor as bloggers, net idols, “girly” photographers, online traders, and cell phone novelists was central to the development of Japan’s digital economy in the 1990s and 2000s.

Presented in the context of the nonprofit arts collective More Art’s fifteen-year history, and featuring first-person testimony, critical essays, and in-depth documentary materials, More Art in the Public Eye is an essential, experiential guide to the field of socially engaged public art and its increasing relevance. This volume is edited by Micaela Martegani, Jeff Kasper, and Emma Drew, and we are distributing it for More Art.

Shana L. Redmond traces Paul Robeson’s continuing cultural resonances in popular culture and politics in Everything Man, showing how he remains a vital force and presence for all those he inspired.

In The Complete Lives of Camp People, Rudolf Mrázek presents a sweeping study of the material and cultural lives of internees of two twentieth-century concentration camps and the multiple ways in which their experiences speak to and reveal the fundamental logics of modernity.

In Avian Reservoirs, Frédéric Keck traces how the anticipation of bird flu pandemics has changed relations between birds and humans in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, showing that humans’ reliance on birds is key to mitigating future pandemics.

Collecting texts from all corners of the world that span antiquity to the present, The Ocean Reader (edited by Eric Paul Roorda) charts humans’ relationship to the ocean, treating it as a dynamic site of history, culture, and politics.

The contributors to Blue Legalities attend to the seas as a legally and politically conflicted space to analyze the conflicts that emerge where systems of governance interact with complex geophysical, ecological, economic, biological, and technological processes. This collection is edited by Irus Braverman and Elizabeth R. Johnson.

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W. Ian Bourland on the Legacy of Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Ian_BourlandIn this guest post, W. Ian Bourland writes about artist Rotimi Fani-Kayode on the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of his death, December 21, 1989. Bourland is the author of Bloodflowers: Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Photography, and the 1980s, which examines Fani-Kayode’s art as a touchstone for cultural debates surrounding questions of gender and queerness, race and diaspora, aesthetics and politics, and the enduring legacy of slavery and colonialism. Bourland is Assistant Professor of Global Contemporary Art History at Georgetown University.

 

This month, Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s would have been 64 years old. Instead, he died in a hospital for infectious diseases in north London, survived by his partner, the writer Alex Hirst. They had met six years earlier when Fani-Kayode returned to London after seven years in the United States. There, he received formal and informal educations in Washington and New York, at university and in the countercultural spaces of clubland, the black gay poetry, and the rapidly changing eighties art world. In so doing, he broke with his family’s aspirations that he go into a “respectable” field, and consigned himself to permanent exile as an out gay man during a time of widespread homophobia and in the wake of the early days of the AIDS crisis. I explore this art and the context in which it was created in Bloodflowers.

BloodflowersFrom the time that Fani-Kayode knocked on Hirst’s door, he was a fixture in the community spaces around Brixton. Intellectuals like C.L.R. James, luminaries of the Caribbean Arts Movement, experimental theatre producers, and local non-profit gallery owners all converged in this landscape south of the Thames; they were part of a larger movement on the part of the Greater London Council and leftist leaders—from Darcus Howe to Ken Livingstone—to push back against the austerity and xenophobia of the Thatcher years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in this era of conservatism and in advance of the art sector boomtimes of the 1990s, Fani-Kayode’s art existed below the radar for mainstream audiences. He published in the pages of Square Peg, a queer journal that Hirst co-edited; and showed his photographs at a range of smaller spaces throughout the city. Dozens of his black-and-white photographs of men were published by Gay Men’s Press by 1988, and they circulated globally, mostly in specialist book shops. He also co-founded Autograph ABP, which continues to thrive to this day. It is now housed in a David Adjaye-designed building in the Shoreditch neighborhood that it shares with the Stuart Hall library. They recently staged a powerful show of portraits by South African artist and activist Zanele Muholi who, in many ways, is a successor of Fani-Kayode’s.

To some extent, it is remarkable that Fani-Kayode’s art has persisted. He died with few resources, his archive only preserved by the grace of friends like Hirst and Autograph director Mark Sealy. In the closing weeks of 1989, the “globalized” network of the contemporary art world that we now take for granted was in its infancy. The idea of professors and curators and academic journals taking his photographs seriously—taking contemporary African art seriously at all—seemed unlikely. And yet, the work survived: in shows in France, a collection with the publisher Revue Noire, and in 1996 in the landmark In/Sight exhibition of modern and contemporary African photography at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum still has some of those magnificent chromogenic prints, initially secured by the late Okwui Enwezor over two decades ago. They were on display this autumn alongside works by Lyle Ashton Harris, Glenn Ligon, Catherine Opie, Robert Mapplethorpe, and others. Smaller solo shows have been held throughout the United States, and even as far away as Cape Town.

I came to know Fani-Kayode’s work through the writing of Enwezor, Kobena Mercer, and Steven Nelson back in 2006. Then, he was widely celebrated as a key figure in the emerging field of contemporary African art history: he had written a powerful artist’s statement declaring himself to be a Yoruban photographer working in Europe, and his virtuosic photographs drew freely on iconographies from the western Africa and its diasporas. These he put in dialogue with Baroque painting, photographic modernism, classical myth and Christian symbolism. In short, his oeuvre is an art historian’s dream, and a source of boundless inspiration to viewers from many walks of life.

But I think Fani-Kayode was so important then, as now, for the visionary quality of his life and practice. This was literally true, in his invocation of a Yoruban “technique of ecstasy,” states of reverie in his method. But it was also socially resonant. He built on histories of gay liberation and black radicalism, but merged them in provocative ways that put pressure on a range of cultural boundaries and stereotypes. His pictures figured subjects that we might now think of in terms of queer or intersectional identities and what Stuart Hall was then theorizing as “New Ethnicities.” Moreover, Fani-Kayode was attuned to European history and contemporary politics—wary of ethno-nationalism and the lures of fascism, he thought of his camera as a weapon in a fight for survival fought every day by people of color, refugees, and exiles all over the world. Certainly these problems are as pressing today as they were in 1989.

I often felt a deep sadness writing Bloodflowers. I wondered what it would have been like for Fani-Kayode to survive long enough to see his work hang in some of the most important museums in the world, to see friends and contemporaries go on to great success, securing blue chip gallery representation, winning the prestigious Turner Prize. If only he had made it a few more years, he might have enjoyed the fruits of a post-Cold War world in which “difference” was suddenly so highly valued. Of course, Mercer and others wrote of the ambivalence with which such victories were won, the narrow path and creative strictures many black artists faced as the price of admission to the gilded circuit of fairs and biennials and wealthy dealers. As a singular voice and a defiantly independent artist, Fani-Kayode would have likely chafed at such expectations, but his perspective would have been a vital one as the decade unfolded.

Fani-Kayode is now widely recognized as one of the most important artists of the 1980s, is part of landmark group shows, and his reputation seems to grow with each passing year. He’s even featured alongside peers like Yinka Shonibare in the textbook I use in many of my courses. Looking back during this season of retrospection, on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the apparent cultural and political sea change that it augured, it is easy to wonder how much progress we have made. Three decades later, it seems that the art world has caught up to Fani-Kayode’s powerful example; in so many other ways, our collective work is only beginning.

You can read the introduction of Bloodflowers free online now, and purchase a paperback copy of for 30% off using the coupon code E19BRLND.

 

New Books in May

Jump-start your summer reading with one of our new titles this May!

In Coral Empire Ann Elias traces the history of two explorers whose photographs and films of tropical reefs in the 1920s cast corals and the sea as an unexplored territory to be exploited in ways that tied the tropics and reefs to colonialism, racism, and the human domination of nature.

The contributors to Remaking New Orleans, edited by Thomas Jessen Adams and Matt Sakakeeny, challenge the uncritical acceptance of New Orleans-as-exceptional narratives, showing how they flatten the diversity, experience, and culture of the city’s residents and obscure other possible understandings.

The ChasersRenato Rosaldo’s new prose poetry collection, The Chasers, shares his experiences and those of his group of twelve Mexican-American Tucson High School friends known as the Chasers as they grew up, graduated, and fell out of touch, conveying the realities of Chicano life on the borderlands from the 1950s to the present.

In Queering Black Atlantic Religions Roberto Strongman examines three Afro-diasporic religions—Hatian Vodou, Cuban Lucumí/Santería, and Brazilian Candomblé—to demonstrate how the commingling of humans and the divine during trance possession produce subjectivities whose genders are unconstrained by biological sex.

Written in 1937, published in Spanish in 1973, and appearing here in English for the first time, Freddy Prestol Castillo’s novel You Can Cross the Massacre on Foot is one of the few accounts of the 1937 massacre of tens of thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.

Book Reports

In Book Reports, a generous collection of book reviews and literary essays, rock critic Robert Christgau shows readers a different side to his esteemed career with reviews of books ranging from musical autobiographies, criticism, and histories to novels, literary memoirs, and cultural theory.

The contributors to From Russia with Code, edited by Mario Biagioli and Vincent Antonin Lépinay, examine Russian computer scientists, programmers, and hackers in and outside of Russia within the context of new international labor markets and the economic, technological, and political changes in post-Soviet Russia.

In Camp TV Quinlan Miller reframes American television history by tracing a camp aesthetic and the common appearance of trans queer gender characters in both iconic and lesser known sitcoms throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

The coauthors of Decolonizing Ethnography integrate ethnography with activist work in a New Jersey center for undocumented workers, showing how anthropology can function as a vehicle for activism and as a tool for marginalized people to theorize their own experiences.

In Work! Elspeth H. Brown traces modeling’s history from the advent of photographic modeling in the early twentieth century to the rise of the supermodel in the 1980s, showing how it is both the quintessential occupation of a modern consumer economy and a practice that has been shaped by queer sensibilities.

In Figures of Time Toni Pape examines contemporary television that often presents a conflict-laden conclusion first before relaying the events that led up to that inevitable ending, showing how this narrative structure attunes audiences to the fear-based political doctrine of preemption—a logic that justifies preemptive action to nullify a perceived future threat.

In Anti-Japan Leo T. S. Ching traces the complex dynamics that shape persisting negative attitudes toward Japan throughout East Asia, showing how anti-Japanism stems from the failed efforts at decolonization and reconciliation, the U.S. military presence, and shifting geopolitical and economic conditions in the region.

The Cuba Reader

Tracking Cuban history from 1492 to the present, this revised and expanded second edition of The Cuba Reader presents myriad perspectives on Cuba’s history, culture, and politics, including a new section that explores the changes and continuities in Cuba since Fidel Castro stepped down from power in 2006.

The Fernando Coronil Reader, a posthumously published collection of anthropologist Fernando Coronil’s most important work, highlights his deep concern with the global South, Latin American state formation, theories of nature, empire and postcolonialism, and anthrohistory as an intellectual and ethical approach.

The extensively updated and revised third edition of the bestselling Social Medicine Reader (Volume I and Volume II) provides a survey of the challenging issues facing today’s health care providers, patients, and caregivers with writings by scholars in medicine, the social sciences, and the humanities. It will be a great addition to courses in public health, medicine, nursing, and more.

Catherine Waldby traces how the history of the valuing of human oocytes—the reproductive cells specific to women—intersects with the biological and social life of women in her new book The Oocyte Economy.

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Photography and Work

RHR_18_3_coverThe most recent issue of Radical History Review, “Photography and Work,” edited by Kevin Coleman, Daniel James, and Jayeeta Sharma, is now available.

What makes photographs different from other kinds of historical source material? What can photograph images do that other documents cannot? Can photographs help us to see how capitalism works? This special issue considers these questions as it examines the capacity of photography to capture labor and capital. Through the study of fine art photography, as well as state, corporate, family, trade union, ethnographic, photojournalistic, and environmental visual archives, the issue seeks to understand the ways that photography has been central to both the appropriation and exploitation of labor and to the artistic critique of these practices.

Browse the table-of-contents and read the introduction, made freely available.

The Labor Beat

The most recent issue of Labor, “The Labor Beat,” edited by Max Fraser and Christopher Phelps, is now available.

ddlab_15_1_coverThis issue considers the transformation of labor journalists’ working conditions across time, from the days of the small printer-publisher to the mid-century newspaper conglomerate and today’s cable-news, Internet-propelled 24-hour environment.  Even journalists brimming with the best of intentions do not write news under conditions of their own choosing, given the power of publishers, editors, and advertisers. That makes it all the more impressive that so many have covered the labor beat with alacrity, including those profiled in this issue: John Swinton and Joseph Buchanan in the nineteenth century; Heywood Broun, Benjamin Stolberg, Trezzvant Anderson, and Barbara Ehrenreich in the twentieth; and Steven Greenhouse, Jane Slaughter, and Sarah Jaffe today.

Browse the table of contents and read the introduction to the issue, now freely available.

Flash Sale: Save 50% on all Art & Photography Books

FLASH50_SaleDec2017_200x300_72dpiWe’re excited to announce a special three-day Flash Sale on all of our in-stock art, art history, and photography books and journal issues. To claim the discount, enter the coupon code FLASH50 when checking out.

What are some of the great gift-worthy titles you can get during this sale? All of the the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize winners are included. Check out the latest winner, Test of Faith by Lauren Pond,  a deeply nuanced, personal look at serpent handling in Appalachia.

Or perhaps you’d like to order a gorgeous special issue of NKA_38_prour journal Nka, such as “Black Portraiture[s]: The Black Body in the West.” Edited by Cheryl Finley and Deborah Willis, it’s full of fascinating essays and artwork. Or grab a catalog from a recent Nasher Museum of Art show, such as Miranda Lash’s and Trevor Schoonmaker’s Southern Accent, which investigates the many realities, fantasies, and myths of the South that have long captured the public’s imagination, while presenting a wide range of perspectives that create a composite portrait of southern identity through contemporary art.

If art history is more your style, check out Collective Situations, edited by Bill Kelley Jr. and Grant H. Kester, or try Jessica Horton’s Art for an Undivided Earth, about the American Indian Movement generation, or MacArthur “genius grant” awardee Kellie Jones’s most recent book, South of Pico.

Here’s the usual fine print: The discount does not apply to apparel, journals subscriptions or society memberships. You can’t order out-of-stock or not yet published titles at the discount. And you can’t combine multiple orders to maximize the discount. Regular shipping applies and all sales are final.

Hurry and shop now on dukeupress.edu because this sale ends at 11:59 pm on Friday, December 8.