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Fellowship Project Descriptions

Molly Kalkstein, PhD candidate, University of Arizona
The Discerning Eye: Materiality and the 1970s American Market for Photographs

 

At a time when photographs of all kinds garner thousands and even millions of dollars at auction and gallery sales, and routinely appear on museum walls, it can be startling to remember that both this commercial value and cultural currency are relatively recent phenomena. The medium itself has now existed for nearly two hundred years, but it was not until the 1970s that photographs definitively moved into the marketplace. There, they began to be collected and sold by individuals and institutions alike, with growing avidity and sophistication.

 

This development, commonly known as the photo boom, could not have occurred without an important epistemological shift. From this period onward, our understanding of photography’s reproductive capacity expanded to incorporate a conception of photographs as singular objects with distinct and even covetable physical characteristics. My dissertation proposes that this recognition of photographs’ materiality was essential to their circulation within the larger market for art. It has continued to exert a powerful influence on the study, sale, display, and collection of photographic objects.

 

In my investigation, I begin by positioning the photo boom against the backdrop of the American printmaking revival that directly preceded it, looking especially at the era’s protracted debates about “original prints.” Next, I consider keywords and strategies that emerged in the 1970s, aimed at creating rarity and distinguishing photographs as valuable collectibles. Finally, I unpack the notion of “image permanence” and the advent of professional conservation as signs of photography’s shift from a medium of ostensibly unlimited duplicates to one of irreplaceable originals.

 

Kelvin Parnell, PhD candidate, University of Virginia

Casting Bronze, Recasting Race: Sculpture in Mid-to-Late Nineteenth-Century America

 

My dissertation research studies the role of bronze and naturalism in American sculpture during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. It considers the ways in which sculptor Henry Kirke Brown (1814–1886) and his first pupil, sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward (1830–1910), expressed a commitment to bronze and naturalism that entangled materiality and aesthetic style with national identity. The dissertation demonstrates that bronze became a significant point of interest for nineteenth-century audiences, and my project will emphasize how both sculptor and viewer shared an understanding of a work’s relevancy and value through the specific material in which it was created. More pointedly, the project articulates how bronze and naturalism function as representational tools to fashion distinctively American subjects emblematic of the country’s history and values. By analyzing Brown’s and Ward’s use of bronze and their varied styles, I articulate how material and style were combined to articulate, construct, and differentiate racial identities in sculptural representations in mid-to-late nineteenth-century America. In so doing, my dissertation offers new avenues for understanding the ways in which sculptural representation, materiality, and aesthetics had an impact on racial formations within the United States between the 1840s and 1890s, a period art historian Wayne Craven has described as “America’s Bronze Age.” Thus, this study balances the social-political connections between racial imagery and sculpture produced in the U.S. during this period with materiality in order to determine how bronze and an amalgam of sculptural styles are critical vehicles in American sculpture for inscribing racial difference and hierarchy.

 

Erika Nelson Pazian, PhD candidate, City University of New York

From the Parlor to the Battlefield: Visualizing Contested Spaces during the U.S.-Mexican War

 

My dissertation is a comparative analysis of the visual culture of the U.S.-Mexican War (1846–1848), a watershed event that transformed the land of the North American continent politically, socially, and ideologically. I examine how both countries engaged in the conflict visually communicated societal norms regarding gender, ecology, conquest, and commemoration through the depiction of contested spaces. I analyze images that were circulated on both sides of the conflict to demonstrate the multivalent nature of the visual culture of the era and the complications of nation formation during a time when ideals of whom and what constituted a nation were rapidly shifting. My analysis shows that despite the different circumstances of each nation in the years preceding the conflict, during the war, artists on both sides depicted similar subject matter and used comparable visual tools to give form to their respective nations’ understanding of issues that transcended political boundaries.

 

Jessica Larson, PhD candidate, City University of New York

Building Black Manhattan: Architecture and the Politics of Respectability, 1857–1914

 

My dissertation, “Building Black Manhattan: Architecture and the Politics of Respectability, 1857–1914,” recovers the ignored contributions of African Americans to the architectural and urban history of New York City; in particular, this project foregrounds how the voices of black women shaped the spatial decisions of their communities. Through the architectural analysis of charitable and reform institutions built in the neighborhoods with the largest African American populations, I argue that the 19th-century construction of centers for black community support established the cultural and infrastructural patterns that would ultimately allow Harlem to thrive. These institutions include missions, churches that provided assistance programs similar to the white-dominated settlement house movement, orphanages, nurseries, and model tenements. Working chronologically, I begin when the black community was concentrated in Greenwich Village following the Civil War (known popularly then as “Little Africa”). I examine the early construction of black churches in the area, the establishment of black networks of support, and the city’s deliberate effort to intimidate the community through the construction of the Jefferson Market Courthouse and Prison. With increased white immigration from Europe, the black population was forced northward to the Tenderloin District circa 1880; I analyze the architectural distinctions between two neighboring missions for African Americans in this neighborhood –one run by white Quakers and one exclusively by black reformers –and the local police precinct’s attempts to evict these institutions and build a women’s prison in their place. In the shadow of the 1900 Tenderloin Race Riot and the impending construction of Penn Station, the black population was once again forced uptown to San Juan Hill. Here I examine four model tenements built exclusively for working-class African Americans and the ways in which black women reformers in the neighborhood influenced their designs. This project expands the architectural understanding of Manhattan’s history to underscore the ways in which African Americans labored to build a city in which they could prosper.

 

Jared Richardson, PhD, Independent scholar

The Black Aquatic: Affect, Occiduus, and Temporality

 

My interests in Afrofuturism and black temporality have evolved into a focus of my dissertation titled “The Black Aquatic: Affect, ‘Occiduus', and Temporality Beyond the Atlantic.” I subsequently theorize an affective link between blackness and the materiality of water and its attendant sensations through examples such as drowning, thirst, and seasickness. Though seemingly disparate in content, each of the chapters deals with the following question: How do material and metaphorical animacies of water devastate normative conceptions of political, economic, and philosophical freedom within the Occident or occiduus (e.g. a Latin term that connotes both “westward” orientation and “sinking”)? By combining affect theory with Black feminist critique to analyze how the aquatic encompasses speculative forms of blackness, my theorization of a black aquatic imaginary re-engineers Sigmund Freud’s elusive idea of an “oceanic feeling” as a racial sensation involving a physical engagement with ideology borne upon blackness and water. In so doing, my research liquidates patrilineal understandings of black futurity, thereby enabling new insights of time and embodiment that expand upon the larger notion of race within Black Studies. The archive for this undertaking encompasses filmic and sculptural objects created by Doreen Garner and Steve McQueen; episodes of drowning from black popular culture and historical events; ethnographic accounts of black surfers in Haiti and Hawaii; and literature written by Octavia Butler, among other materials.