Photographic Returns

Racial Justice and the Time of Photography

Photographic Returns

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 75 illustrations, incl.19 in color Published: January 2020

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Art and Visual Culture > Photography, Cultural Studies

In Photographic Returns Shawn Michelle Smith traces how historical moments of racial crisis come to be known photographically and how the past continues to inhabit, punctuate, and transform the present through the photographic medium in contemporary art. Smith engages photographs by Rashid Johnson, Sally Mann, Deborah Luster, Lorna Simpson, Jason Lazarus, Carrie Mae Weems, Taryn Simon, and Dawoud Bey, among others. Each of these artists turns to the past—whether by using nineteenth-century techniques to produce images or by recreating iconic historic photographs—as a way to use history to negotiate the present and to call attention to the unfinished political project of racial justice in the United States. By interrogating their use of photography to recall, revise, and amplify the relationship between racial politics of the past and present, Smith locates a temporal recursivity that is intrinsic to photography, in which images return to haunt the viewer and prompt reflection on the present and an imagination of a more just future.


“Offering a major contribution to how we think about the relationship between time and photography, Shawn Michelle Smith stuns the reader into seeing familiar texts in new ways. Her scholarship is a model of careful thinking, close reading, clear writing, and historical sensibility. I learned so much from reading this book! It is a spectacular accomplishment.” — Elspeth H. Brown, author of Work! A Queer History of Modeling


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Price: $25.95

Open Access

Spring 2019 sale
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Shawn Michelle Smith is Professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; author of At the Edge of Sight: Photography and the Unseen and Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture; and coeditor of Photography and the Optical Unconscious and Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity; all also published by Duke University Press.

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Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0468-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0407-3