A Communion of Shadows: Religion and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America

Rachel McBride Lindsey. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4696-3648-1
In this important monograph, Lindsey, religion professor at Washington University in St. Louis, explores the relationship between Christian religious practice and early forms of what she calls “vernacular photography” to understand how 19th-century photographs operated as religious relics. Her survey of the intersection of photography and faith examines family photograph albums as an extension—sometimes literally—of the family Bible, the ways photographs were incorporated into 19th-century mourning practices, legal and religious debates surrounding spirit photography, and commercially produced stereographic views and visual tours of the Holy Land. Throughout, Lindsey engages the spiritual meanings of photographs as part of religious practice; the racial discourses at work through visual depictions of, for example, one’s ancestors, as in the practice of using the family Bible to hold pages of a family tree accompanied by photographic portraits; and the presentation of contemporary inhabitants of Palestine as Biblical characters. Christianity is the focus in this text, and readers will be left wondering how 19th-century Jewish, Muslim, and Native communities (to name just a few) responded to photographic practices. This is a thoroughly researched, trenchant study of Christian America’s use of photographs, as visual and material objects, to construct narratives of personal and religious significance. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/30/2017
Release date: 10/01/2017
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Paperback - 312 pages - 978-1-4696-3372-5
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