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Disappearing Witness

Change in Twentieth-Century American Photography

Gretchen Garner

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American photographers documented and defined the twentieth century in a remarkable array of images, the style and content of which evolved dramatically over the course of the century. In Disappearing Witness, photographer and art historian Gretchen Garner chronicles this transformation, from the introduction of the 35-millimeter camera in the 1920s to the digital photography of today. Accompanied by over 125 key works in the history of photography—fine-art, documentary, and editorial—her thoughtful and enlightening discussion traces American photography's aesthetic, commercial, and…

American photographers documented and defined the twentieth century in a remarkable array of images, the style and content of which evolved dramatically over the course of the century. In Disappearing Witness, photographer and art historian Gretchen Garner chronicles this transformation, from the introduction of the 35-millimeter camera in the 1920s to the digital photography of today. Accompanied by over 125 key works in the history of photography—fine-art, documentary, and editorial—her thoughtful and enlightening discussion traces American photography's aesthetic, commercial, and technological changes, as the medium's primary role of spontaneous witness gradually gave way to contrived arrangement and artistic invention.

Garner discusses direct witness as the dominant paradigm for American photographers from the 1920s to the 1960s. During these decades, photographers saw their medium primarily as a vehicle for truthful description and sometimes as a weapon against social injustice. In the 1960s, however, photographic practice and its cultural significance shifted to reflect more personal, idiosyncratic, and staged visions of reality—a trend, Garner notes, that has intensified with digital photography. The major portion of the book is devoted to post-1960s work, exploring how the changes have affected portraiture, documentary, landscape, still life, fashion, and the new genre of self-imagery. In documenting this transformation in American photography, Disappearing Witness forcefully rethinks the history of photography itself.

Reviews

Reviews

Very few histories of photography read like novels... Disappearing Witness is... a pleasurable experience in form and content... Garner not only knows her subject but understands it: she moves with extreme ease in it and takes us for an interesting guided tour, one that does not pretend to be blandly objective but clearly defines her learned vision.

This well-written, readable book would be best used as a course resource in 20th-century photography.

Clearly written, and illustrated with well-chosen images, Disappearing Witness describes the significant paradigm shift in photography over the course of the twentieth century, namely the move from direct observation of the world through the lens to a more critical relationship between the act of photographic observation and picture-making. Gretchen Garner's unusual and welcome premise is well-reasoned and persuasive.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
7
x
10
Pages
328
ISBN
9780801871672
Illustration Description
31 color photos, 107 halftones
Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction
Part I. Photography of Witness
1. Being There: Spontaneous Witness
2. Speed and the Machine
3. Fine-Art Photography, Redefined
4. Documentary
5

List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction
Part I. Photography of Witness
1. Being There: Spontaneous Witness
2. Speed and the Machine
3. Fine-Art Photography, Redefined
4. Documentary
5. The Magazines
6. Spirit in Photography
Part II. Disappearing Witness
7. New Paradigms: Uelsmann, Michals, and Samaras
8. Documentary-Style and Street Photography
9. Photography about Photography: The Academy and the Art World
10. New Landscapes, New Portraits: The Seventies and Eighties
11. The Subject Self
1.2 Arrangement, Invention, and Appropriation
13. Digitized PhotographyConclusionNotes
Works Cited
Index

Author Bio
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Gretchen Garner

Gretchen Garner is a photographer and independent scholar. She has taught photography and history of photography at Michigan's Grand Valley State University and at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, served as editor of Exposure and as photography editor of the New Art Examiner, and has curated exhibitions at museums in Minnesota and Michigan. She lives in Columbus, Ohio.