Cultural Memory and the Conditions of Visibility: The Circulation of Jim Crow Photographs

Elizabeth Abel

in Signs of the Times

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780520261174
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520945869 | DOI:
Cultural Memory and the Conditions of Visibility: The Circulation of Jim Crow Photographs

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This chapter examines the complex inquiries posed by visual culture studies against the uses of the visual in the construction of cultural memory. It analyzes the pressures that have made Jim Crow signs available for scrutiny. Too offensive to enlist the aesthetic interest of northern photographers such as Walker Evans and too routine to capture the attention of Southern documentarians, the signs were surprisingly underdocumented and their representations underdisplayed. Several questions thus emerge: How and by whom has Jim Crow's visual record been produced? Where has it been lodged? And why has it registered so lightly in the public domain? How did the racial signs both elicit and evade the attention of photographers from diverse racial, ideological, and historical locations? This chapter also considers the conditions of production and publication that have made it possible to avoid encountering or conceptualizing these photographs as a coherent cultural archive, and how a few iconic images have come to fill the cultural void.

Keywords: Jim Crow signs; cultural memory; Walker Evans; visual record; public domain; photographers; photographs; iconic images; production; publication

Chapter.  7788 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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