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  Essays on Photography, Gender and Sexual Politics  
 
     
  Currencies of the Body

Abstract: This is a short meditation on a cluster of photography exhibitions I visited in New York in 2001. I wanted to make sense of what initially seemed to be an unbridgeable gulf between the traditional documentary ideal of bearing witness to human cruelty and folly in the service of public understanding, and the studied depthlessness of contemporary documentary photography and claims to the sufficiency of private feeling that underwrite so much of this work. Rather than judging the relative merits of each approach, my intent was to shed light on what they reveal about the widespread pessimism and ambivalences of our own time in history, both about our possibilities as social actorsand about what we can know from photographic evidence .

This essay was originally published in the Harvard Photography Journal (2001).
 
   
 
   
 
  Horse Crazy

Abstract: This essay explores the aesthetics/erotics of white girls (and women!) and horses in 20th-century Euro-American culture. Originally developed in the mid-1990s as an artist’s lecture as I embarked on my photographic series Being & Riding (see Portfolios), I revamped it for the catalogue Horse Tales that accompanied an exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in 2001.
 
     
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  Mirrors and Windowshoppers

Abstract: By the mid-1990s, images of lesbians seemed to be popping up everywhere: in print, on TV and film, and in the art world. Noting that a decade earlier critic Jan Zita Grover had remarked on the scarcity of lesbian representations (and the PC policing of what few there were), I used this opportunity to explore the complex routes by which lesbian images had migrated from politicized feminist and sub-cultural contexts to the market mainstream and how this transformed the possibilities for political resistance.

This essay (with illustrations) was published in OverExposed: Essays on Contemporary Photography (Carol Squiers, ed.) 1999.
 
   
   
   
  Pictures, Perverts and Politics

Abstract: This is the introductory essay to my edited volume, The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire (Routledge, 1998). Intended to argue for the social importance of sex-radical images, I reviewed the historical controversies and moral panics surrounding photographs of sexually charged subjects from Lewis Carroll to Robert Mapplethorpe. I then recapped the more recent debates among feminist, queer and non-white constituencies in late 20th-century Anglo-America about the uses of photographs to represent sexual identities and desires during a time of religious and conservative backlash.
 
   
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  Shopping the Leftovers: Warhol’s collecting strategies in Raid the Icebox I

Abstract: In 1969, Andy Warhol visited the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design and assembled an exhibition from the museum’s basement storage rooms. While a few scholars had written about Raid the Icebox I, it seemed to be utterly erased from the institution’s collective memory. As a faculty member at the school, I was intrigued by this “forgetting.” Excited by the revisionist Warhol scholarship appearing in the 1990s, I decided to investigate Warhol’s visit to RISD not only as a clash between cultivated elite taste and the artist’s pop sensibility, but as a case study of the profoundly disruptive presence of a working-class queer who exposed the instability of the museum’s very enterprise.

This essay was published with illustrations in Art History 24:2 (2001) and reprinted in Other Objects of Desire: Collectors and Collecting Queerly (Michael Camille and Adrian Rifkin, eds.)
 
   
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  Essays on Landscape Photography  
 
     
  The Machine in the Garden Revisited

Abstract: In this essay, I trace an overview of the relations between the aesthetics of landscape photography with the histories of environmental politics in the United States. From the Progressive Era (1890s) to the present (1990s), we see how the identification of American nationalism with its romantic iconography of rugged wilderness landscapes is revived at moments of political and ecological crisis. This tradition was undermined in the 1960s and 1970s as feminist, non-white, post-colonial, and ecological activists advocated a more politicized/"deconstructive" understanding of the concepts "nature" and "culture." The New Topographics photographers echoed this anti-romantic approach, though they disavowed any political readings of their work. With the conservative Reagan/Bush era, and the influx of Wall Street money into the art market, a new tradition of romanticism made itself felt: not an Ansel Adams-like celebration of nature, but large, lush, lurid color images of its despoliation. At the dawn of the 1990s, postmodernist sign-spinners weighed in with Artificial Nature, an exhibition and catalogue, which disavowed all fixed meanings for the nature/culture binary, but proposed no response beyond spectatorship and consumption. In conclusion, I argue that rather than dwelling in the realm of abstract ideas about beauty, technology, nature, and culture, we photographers need to engage the local: the particular histories and politics of our lived and experienced environments, making our theory from the ground up.

This essay was originally published in Art Journal (Summer 1992).
 
   
 
   
 
  Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men

Abstract: Probably my most widely known essay, "Of Mother Nature" was an attempt to answer the question: "Why are there no great women landscape photographers?" With twenty years of hindsight, I can appreciate the polemical tone of the essay as an artifact of its time in the mid-1980s (raging gender wars within the Society for Photographic Education where I was active in the Women's Caucus, an exciting energy as artists and scholars were speaking truth to power in the academy and art world and inventing new critical tools to dismantle entrenched minority privilege.) Those heady days seem distant, now, as conservative backlash has taken its toll. However, the fact that this essay still strikes a chord with so many young people indicates to me that itŐs still doing its good work.

This essay was originally published in Exposure 23:1 (Winter 1985).
 
     
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  Victory Gardens: The Public Landscape of Postwar America

Abstract: In this essay, I take a look at a selection of mainstream magazines and picture books of American landscape photographs printed in the years immediately after World War 2 (1945-1960). This was the "hottest" period of the Cold War when national conformity and anti-communism were at their peak. The photographic vistas of the American West as the enduring symbol of Manifest Destiny had a great revival as U.S. corporations set their sights on a new global Manifest Destiny under a postwar Pax Americana. It was also the world of my white suburban childhood when family vacation trips to National Parks were exercises in absorbing patriotic and Christian values. After the social revolutions and geo-political changes of the 1960s and 1970s, the ideological indoctrination of these old picture books of "Our America" is painfully and even risibly obvious. But images of mountains majesty, and the myth of a vanished golden age of virtue they symbolize, are always ready for revitalization in times of fear and political opportunism.

This essay was published in Views (Spring 1990), where it won the Logan Award for photographic criticism.