cover image Collaboration: A Potential History of Photography

Collaboration: A Potential History of Photography

Edited by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay et al. Thames & Hudson, $85 (288p) ISBN 978-0-5005-4533-1

Photographer and subject work in tandem to author an image, contend the editors of this excellent challenge to the “single creator” view of photography. Sitters have taken an active role in the photographic process since the medium’s earliest days, according to contributors Shawn Michelle Smith and Maurice O. Wallace, who note that Frederick Douglass used a direct stare and “gentleman’s dress and deportment” to burnish his “image as a race leader and statesman,” and was ever conscious of photography’s “social value as an instrument of American uplift.” Later in the 19th century, explains Elspeth H. Brown, Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione and Napoleon III’s mistress, “stage-manag[ed] her own notoriety as a Second Empire beauty,” selecting her poses, costumes, props, and accessories for decadent “tableaux vivants” captured by the French court photographer (and in so doing, helping to plant the seeds of modern celebrity culture, Brown contends). The collection also astutely illustrates how photography—even when ostensibly deployed to oppress—can subtly critique power structures and dominant cultural narratives, as evidenced by the potent 1961 mug shots of Mississippi Freedom Riders (“Is that a wry, knowing smile on the future Congressman John Lewis’s face, his head haloed in his mug shot?” writes Sarah Elizabeth Lewis). Enriched by the volume’s incisive social commentary, these striking images leave a mark. (Feb.)