John Thomson, or Traveling Subjects
I took advantage of my time in Asia to begin initial research on a project on travel and photography, tentatively entitled Traveling Subjects. In 1862, the photographer John Thomson moved to Singapore to begin his career documenting East Asia. Along the way, as I argue in Traveling Subjects, Thomson will come to reorient his travel photography from the perspective of the subject. In 2009, I was awarded a two-year grant to lead a team of students in researching Thomson’s work. Our research uncovered, among other things, a poet from the late Qing dynasty who describes Thomson’s portrait session in traditional Chinese poetry and a Buddhist monastery in Bangkok rumored to reflect his images in their murals. We collected a reception history from the Chinese media on the 2009 exhibition of Thomson’s photographs. As this project evolves, I hope to reveal an alternate history of travel photography that maintains a focus on the subject as agent, who, much like ourselves, undergoes the moment of photographing with familiarity.
We've submitted an artist's statement to the forthcoming collection: Embodying Singapore: Critical Perspectives in the Arts, Society and Politics, edited by Shirley Chew and Wernmei Yong Ade. I want to share this project, as it somewhat succintly summarizes our ideas about lived experience, politics, and portraiture. You can download a draft here.
Broadview Edition of Ida May by Mary Hayden Green Pike
I am under contract with Broadview Editions to produce an annotated reprint edition of the sentimental anti-slavery novel Ida May: a Story of Things Actual and Possible, due January 2016.
Photographic Studies in American Notebooks
When she edits the American Notebooks in the 1860s, Sophia Hawthorne will find passages that she calls “photographic studies.” In the forthcoming essay in Mixed Messages: American Correspondence in Visual and Verbal Practices (Manchester University Press 2016), I examine each of Sophia’s photographic analogies by considering, at her invitation, the relationship between these realist nonfictional records and Hawthorne’s romantic fiction. When considered in light of the Hawthornes’ appropriation of the photographic and reflective as metaphors for a world they felt exceeded representation, my analysis of these scenes reveals that photography’s significance extends beyond conventional alignments with the indexical real. For the Hawthornes—and as I suggest, for American writing at mid-century in general— “to daguerreotype” implied a reflective surface in both senses of the word. My findings suggest that, in addition to the realist discourse of minuteness, accuracy and preservation associated with the written culture of early photography, we must not ignore its supplemental role in systems that gestured toward the invisible, the unsaid, and the unseen.