Photography, Working Histories, Laboring Lives: A Companion Panel to Radical History Review Issue 132

AHA Session 103
Labor and Working Class History Association 1
Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Salon 7 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Kevin P. Coleman, University of Toronto Mississauga
Walter Benn Michaels, University of Illinois at Chicago

Session Abstract

In what historian John Mraz has called the “third visual period” of history, photographic sources must be held accountable to their social conditions in order to write new histories with them: “Analyzing photos in their contexts is the key; contextualization is the royal road.” This project of contextualization, as historians, is especially pertinent when writing histories of working lives with a medium (photography) whose products are already decontextualized. Across disciplines and geographical contexts, this panel explores new analytical techniques and histories of photography, as they pertain to the transnational study of workers, and the radical study of work, beyond the traditional archives of labor history. The session features contributors from Radical History Review (2018), issue 132, a special issue on photography and labor edited by Kevin Coleman, Jayeeta Sharma, and Daniel James. Through a non-traditional panel format, this session works through methodological and historiographical themes on the history of photography, interspersed with short talks that unpack a visual object or a critical concept.

Kevin Coleman, author of A Camera in the Garden of Eden: The Self-Forging of a Banana Republic (2016) and one of the editors of the special issue, will begin the panel by introducing some core themes across the panelists’ works. Then, in five to seven minute talks, panelists will conduct close readings of a photograph (or a series), a photographer’s works, or a critical concept from their articles. These readings will arise from panelists’ articles, or towards future directions that will stem from their work. Daniel Zamora will present on photographs of workers in the 1970s, an era of declining working-class power. Through images of landscape and indigeneity in the Canadian Shield and Northern Luzon, Siobhan Angus and Adrian De Leon will explore how photography was deployed to aesthetically promote colonial resource extraction. Carol Quirke and Erica Toffoli will variously discuss how photography grapples with race and labor in the United States. From ethnological photos of the colonial Philippines to images of Black uprisings in 1980s Britain, Ian Bourland and Rick Halpern will explore various ways of reading photographs, including methodological approaches to archival research. Walter Benn Michaels, author of The Beauty of a Social Problem: Photography, Autonomy and Political Economy (2015), will conclude the session with remarks on photography in the historical study of labor, culture, and capitalism.

See more of: AHA Sessions