cover image Seeing Things: Technologies of Vision and the Making of Mormonism

Seeing Things: Technologies of Vision and the Making of Mormonism

Mason Kamana Allred. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 trade paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-4696-7258-8

Allred (Weimar Cinema, Embodiment, and Historicity), a professor of media at BYU-Hawaii, articulates in this ambitious entry some fascinating connections between Latter-day Saint theology, technology, and identity formation. Allred argues that media like television, photography, and films helped Mormons move from radical outsiders to accepted Americans, by both allowing believers to engage with American popular culture and projecting new visions of Mormonism to the world. Following the 1844 death of LDS founder Joseph Smith, Allred writes, Philo Dibble’s massive panoramic paintings of Smith provided a “network of visual collective memories” that “brought church members together” amid competing claims to succession. Later, after Mormonism officially abandoned polygamy in 1890, deaf photographer Elfie Huntington’s sometimes queer, fantastical images interrogated women’s changing roles in the church and society, and a 1913 church-sanctioned feature film, One Hundred Years of Mormonism, helped assimilate Mormons into modernity by “telling its tale of religious frontier Americans” to a non-LDS audience. Deeply conversant in critical theory, the author establishes inventive arguments supported by examples that convincingly show the range of media’s power to change culture. Scholars of religion or media will find much to consider. (Mar.)