Friday, February 14, 2014

What is Catherine Zuromskis reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Catherine Zuromskis, author of Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images.

Her entry begins:
As a university professor, I rarely get to focus my attention on a single book from start to finish. I am usually juggling a number of books for class and for research, and if there is time at the end of the day, I may squeeze in a few pages of reading for pleasure. Right now, I’m pleased to be reading a number of different books, all of which are delighting and engaging me in different ways.

I’ve just finished Jennifer Doyle’s fantastic new study Hold it Against Me: Emotion and Difficulty in Contemporary Art (Duke University Press, 2013) and will be writing a review of it for the journal Postmodern Culture. The book deftly examines the difficult topic of emotion in contemporary art through a series of artists who have often been relegated to the margins of art history. Though many critics have been quick to dismiss the works of artists like Ron Athey, an HIV positive gay man whose performances involve self-wounding and painful endurance, Doyle’s book reveals the immense complexity of emotional responses to such works. In the process, she offers a profound critique of art history and its relationship to affect, difficulty, and what is too often oversimplified as the “literalness” of works by queer and female artists and artists of color. I found Doyle’s book inspiring as well for the way she tackles a problem I have often faced in my own scholarship: how to...[read on]
About Snapshot Photography, from the publisher:
Snapshots capture everyday occasions. Taken by amateur photographers with simple point-and-shoot cameras, snapshots often commemorate something that is private and personal; yet they also reflect widely held cultural conventions. The poses may be formulaic, but a photograph of loved ones can evoke a deep affective response. In Snapshot Photography, Catherine Zuromskis examines the development of a form of visual expression that is both public and private.

Scholars of art and culture tend to discount snapshot photography; it is too ubiquitous, too unremarkable, too personal. Zuromskis argues for its significance. Snapshot photographers, she contends, are not so much creating spontaneous records of their lives as they are participating in a prescriptive cultural ritual. A snapshot is not only a record of interpersonal intimacy but also a means of linking private symbols of domestic harmony to public ideas of social conformity.

Through a series of case studies, Zuromskis explores the social life of snapshot photography in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century. She examines the treatment of snapshot photography in the 2002 film One Hour Photo and in the television crime drama Law and Order: Special Victims Unit; the growing interest of collectors and museum curators in "vintage" snapshots; and the"snapshot aesthetic" of Andy Warhol and Nan Goldin. She finds that Warhol's photographs of the Factory community and Goldin's intense and intimate photographs of friends and family use the conventions of the snapshot to celebrate an alternate version of "family values."

In today's digital age, snapshot photography has become even more ubiquitous and ephemeral — and, significantly, more public. But buried within snapshot photography's mythic construction, Zuromskis argues, is a site of democratic possibility.
Learn more about Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images at the MIT Press website.

Writers Read: Catherine Zuromskis.

--Marshal Zeringue