Racial photography is a difficult subject, and a historically-nuanced sensitivity is required to deal with the images and visual/scientific practices that have been used to justify the classification and subjugation of groups of peoples. Morris-Reich’s Race and Photography adeptly manages this sensitivity by refocusing our attention on the claims of scientific observation, which underpinned the creation of a broad range of photographic works between the late nineteenth- and mid-twentieth centuries. Indeed, the greatest merit of this book is the large cast of historical actors that Morris-Reich uncovers and brings to the center of questions surrounding the application of photographic images to the construction of racial science. The book, structured around five substantial case-study-driven chapters, begins with the familiar characters of Francis Galton and Alphonse Bertillion, before moving through a cast of under-studied anthropologists, artists, and scientists who utilized the visual rhetoric and underlying assumptions of visual authenticity of photography to classify racial types. While Morris-Reich’s analysis is particularly focused on the formulation of a “Jewish Type” in Germany and the Middle East, the implications of his approach are broadly applicable. By focusing on the use of photography by practitioners of racial science such as Rudolph Martin, Felix von Luschan, Hans F.K. Günther and Ludwig Ferdinand Clauß (among others), Morris-Reich demonstrates that while photography was not “indispensible for the emergence of the racial sciences,” it was “deeply part of their emergence” (6). To frame his analysis, Morris-Reich posits a set of theory-driven conceptual categories for understanding how photographs of individuals were utilized by historical actors to encapsulate and define racial types. In the early chapters of the book, the author develops terms such as “Mendelian photography” and “pictorial statistics” to emphasize the relationship between the development of modern genetics and the application of statistical modelling – key aspects of twentieth-century scientific practice more generally – to the construction of racial type through photography. However, Morris-Reich qualifies this argument – which could be read as racial scientists misappropriating the tools of modern scientific practice (namely, genetics, statistics and photography) – by pointing out that the actors in his book were defined by a “reactionary logic” towards modernity and modernization. Photography, for Galton, Günther, and Clauß, was about capturing a truth about racial difference which, through the processes of miscegenation, would soon evade the categorizing lens of the camera. The key term for Morris-Reich, which unifies his interpretation of photographs and the values placed on them is “racial imagination.” In particular, he argues that “imagination enables movement from the actual to the ideal and visa versa: the actualization of something absent in reality of the imaginary removal of something actual from reality” (24). This is an effective theoretical foil because it removes the necessity of demonstrating the photographic images to be true, valid, or authentic proof of racial difference, and instead focuses on how the historical actors came to imagine racial difference through photographic means. Moreover, Morris-Reich is able to show that imagination as a concept was a key aspect of certain areas of scientific discourse in the period. In this way, he demonstrates how we can investigate a so-called pseudo-science in its context, rather than exclusively through the lens of non-science. My primary criticism of Race and Photography is that the analysis of the images within the book remains largely theoretical, and only occasionally focuses on tracing how particular photographs were made and used. An effective exception to this can be found in chapter two where Morris-Reich traces a photograph of a Turkish-Armenian Christian as the image appears in different publications by Felix von Luschan. By focusing on how von Luschan framed and mediated this image in his publications, Morris-Reich demonstrates how the photograph of a Christian Turk came to typify – at least for von Luschan – the essence of the Jewish type. However, this form of analysis is only sparingly used. In some cases, the author applies a value to some of his historical photographs, rather than taking their value from what the historical actors said about them. In one example, towards the end of the book, when interpreting Eric Brauer’s photographs of Jews in Palestine, Morris-Reich evaluates what a “good scientific example” was for Brauer by a process of elimination. “Brauer…left no direct evidence concerning the selection process, but from the comparison of the published with the unpublished photographs, it is possible to deduce what was considered a good scientific example” (209). The risk involved in this kind of interpretation is that photographic archives are notoriously incomplete, and are therefore often misleading as a starting point for understanding how photographs were made to contain meaning, especially within scientific communication. While it is often scant or missing, it would have been more effective for the author to lead from what the actors said about their images, and how they framed them on the page, rather than how they exist (or don’t) in the archive. Nevertheless, Photography and Science, remains an important starting point for repositioning the role of photography in the construction of racial sciences in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Historians of science, medicine, anthropology, race and photography will find much of interest in both the methodology and elucidation of a fascinating range of underexplored authors, scientists, artists and photographers. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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