Winner of the Charles C. Eldredge Prize.
In this book, Alan Trachtenberg reinterprets some of America's most significant photographs, presenting them not as static images but rather as rich cultural texts suffused with meaning and historical content. Reading American Photographs is lavishly illustrated with the work of such luminaries as Mathew Brady, Timothy O'Sullivan, and Walker Evanspictures that document the American experience from 1839 to 1938. In an outstanding analysis, Trachtenberg eloquently articulates how the art of photography has both followed and shaped the course of American history, and how images captured decades ago provocatively illuminate the present.
Trachtenberg's sophisticated discussion finds in American photographs a way of reading the past--``the past as culture, as ways of thinking and feeling, as experience.'' For this study he considers images originally edited as albums, books, or photo-stories. In such works as Mathew Brady's Gallery of Illustrious Americans, the Civil War albums of Alexander Gardner and George Barnard, Timothy O'Sullivan's Western survey photographs, Lewis Hine's social work projects and texts, and Walker Evans's American Photographs, he sees photographers trying to make sense of their society while seeking to create a role for photography as an American art. This impressive analysis, which employs social, cultural, and political history as well as art criticism, is highly recommended for American studies and photography collections. (Photographs not seen.) --Ann Copeland, Drew Univ. Lib., Madison, N.J.