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date: 30 March 2020

Summary and Keywords

The photo-text has variously been defined as any interaction in which textual material, whether captions, prose, poetry, quotes, or reportage, is augmented by photographic illustrations. Nonetheless, as a genre distinct from other photo-textual modes of interaction the photo-text took on certain specific qualities from its very inception in the mid-19th century, particularly when it emerged as a book form with a clear agenda and narrative trajectory. The qualities of the photo-text since then have hinged on the importance given to the photographic material, how it is placed and operates vis-à-vis the textual, and on the fact that the interaction between text and photography is intrinsic to the aim and methods of the project at hand. In this respect, the photo-text perfectly encapsulates many of the ideas, themes, and concepts that photographic historians and critics have debated since the popularization of the camera in the 19th century: What is the purpose of photography in documentary terms? Can the abilities of the camera as a realist mode of representation operate as a creative and artistic medium at the same time? To investigate the possibility that there is a distinct heritage of photo-textual work also means thinking more closely about how various tropes and concerns reappear in photo-textual collaborations regardless of decade or century. Across various generic concerns, political or aesthetic, and across various artistic challenges, gendered or class-based, the photo-text remains a medium in which the political nature of representation necessarily comes to the forefront, particularly when we are called upon to consider the ways in which writing affects how we look at photographs and vice versa.

Keywords: Julia Margaret Cameron, Jacob Riis, Weegee, James Agee, Walker Evans, 19th-century history of photography, 20th-century photography, urban photography, documentary, American photography

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