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The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography

Richard Bolton
MIT Press

Photography’s great success gives the impression that the major questions that have haunted the medium are now resolved. On the contrary, the most important questions about photography are just beginning to be asked. These fourteen essays, with over 200 illustrations, critically examine prevailing beliefs about the medium and suggest new ways to explain the history of photography. They are organized around the questions: What are the social consequences of aesthetic practice? How does photography construct sexual difference? How is photography used to promote class and national interests? What are the politics of photographic truth? The Contest of Meaning summarizes the challenges to traditional photographic history that have developed in the last decade out of a consciously political critique of photographic production. Contributions by a wide range of important Americans critics reexamine the complex―and often contradictory―roles of photography within society. Douglas Crimp, Christopher Phillips, Benjamin Buchloh, and Abigail Solomon Godeau examine the gradually developed exclusivity of art photography and describe the politics of canon formation throughout modernism. Catherine Lord, Deborah Bright, Sally Stein, and Jan Zita Grover examine the ways in which the female is configured as a subject, and explain how sexual difference is constructed across various registers of photographic representation. Carol Squiers, Esther Parada, and Richard Bolton clarify the ways in which photography serves as a form of mass communication, demonstrating in particular how photographic production is affected by the interests of the powerful patrons of communications. The three concluding essays, by Rosalind Krauss, Martha Rosler, and Allan Sekula, critically examine the concept of photographic truth by exploring the intentions informing various uses of “objective” images within society.

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  1. The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography

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