Signs of Labor in the American Photographic Press, 1926-1951
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CitationInnes, Margaret. 2019. Signs of Labor in the American Photographic Press, 1926-1951. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThe flourishing of American modernist photography coincided with the most militant period of class struggle in United States history. Despite this correspondence, accounts of photographic modernism in the US have yet to contend with the radical labor movement’s profound impact upon interwar photographic activity. This dissertation investigates how modes of collective production and political agitation on the radical left transformed the photographic public sphere of the period. It presents a two-pronged examination of workers’ pictorials and the new class of “worker-photographers” who emerged to supply these publications with class-conscious imagery. Through distinct visual, narrative, and authorial tactics, these formations reshaped photography’s public function within the sphere of the press. This dissertation argues that these publications and photographers are necessary interlocutors for the established auteurs of the interwar modernist canon.
The dissertation’s four case studies chart photography’s role in opinion-formation, coalition-building, and social activism among groups traditionally excluded from the liberal bourgeois public sphere. Chapters one and two focus on the pictorial Labor Defender, launched by an auxiliary of the American communist party in 1926, and the Workers Film and Photo League (WFPL) of 1930-1933, respectively. These chapters examine the efforts of Labor Defender editors, who experimented with techniques and tropes of photomontage to forge an interracial working-class coalition, and the photographers of the WFPL, who produced and disseminated images of this coalition’s political agency though various media outlets. Chapters three and four examine the pictorial Photo-History of 1937-1938, and the New York Photo League, a group established in 1936. They place the Photo League’s formation and Photo-History’s innovative visual program within the context of broader changes in the domestic image market and labor movement to address photography’s shifting public potential in the years of the Popular Front. Photo-History reconceived of the workers’ pictorial for an interclass audience, fusing filmic narrative with statistical analysis to appeal to labor and management alike. At the same time, photographers of the Photo League reoriented their practice around models of documentary and photojournalism favored by mainstream outlets like Life magazine, pursuing a program of interclass legibility while nonetheless signaling members’ aspirational identification with photographic professionals.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029805
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