Why do we look at lynching photographs? What is the basis for our curiosity, rage, indignation, or revulsion? Beginning in the late nineteenth century, nearly five thousand blacks were put to death at the hands of lynch mobs throughout America. In many communities it was a public event, to be witnessed, recorded, and made available by means of photographs. In this book, the art historian Dora Apel and the American Studies scholar Shawn Michelle Smith examine lynching photographs as a way of analyzing photography's historical role in promoting and resisting racial violence. They further suggest how these photographs continue to affect the politics of spectatorship. In clear prose, and with carefully chosen images, the authors chart the history of lynching photographs—their meanings, uses, and controversial display—and offer terms in which to understand our responsibilities as viewers and citizens.
Anthony W. Lee
The Evidence of Lynching Photographs
Shawn Michelle Smith
Lynching Photographs and the Politics of Public Shaming
Dora Apel is Associate Professor and W. Hawkins Ferry Chair in Modern and Contemporary Art at Wayne State University. She is the author of Memory Effects: The Holocaust and the Art of Secondary Witnessing (2002) and Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob (2004). Shawn Michelle Smith is Associate Professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the author of American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture (1999) and Photography on the Color Line: W.E.B. DuBois, Race, and Visual Culture (2004).
"A lucid, smart, engaging, and accessible introduction to the impact of lynching photography on the history of race and violence in America. "—Grace Elizabeth Hale, author of Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in America, 1890-1940
"With admirable courage, Dora Apel and Shawn Michelle Smith examine lynching photographs that are horrifying, shameful, and elusive; with admirable sensitivity they help us delve into the meaning and legacy of these difficult images. They show us how the images change when viewed from different perspectives, they reveal how the photographs have continued to affect popular culture and political debates, and they delineate how the pictures produce a dialectic of shame and atonement."—Ashraf H. A. Rushdy, author of Neo-Slave Narratives and Remembering Generations
"This thoughtful and engaging book offers a highly accessible yet theoretically sophisticated discussion of a painful, complicated, and unavoidable subject. Apel and Smith, employing complementary (and sometimes overlapping) methodological approaches to reading these images, impress upon us how inextricable photography and lynching are, and how we cannot comprehend lynching without making sense of its photographic representations."—Leigh Raiford, co-editor of The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory
"Our newspapers have recently been filled with photographs of mutilated, tortured bodies from both war fronts and domestic arenas. How do we understand such photographs? Why do people take them? Why do we look at them? The two essays by Apel and Smith address photographs of lynching, but their analysis can be applied to a broader spectrum of images presenting ritual or spectacle killings."—Frances Pohl, author of Framing America: A Social History of American Art