Author Archives: Jade Davis

Ebony and Ivory

Ebony and Ivory [J.R. Carter], c. 1987

The photograph, titled Ebony and Ivoery, is of a black man holding a small Greek statue figurine.  The man is J.R. Carter, a professional model that Day used in multiple works.  Carter seated in the nude, on a platform covered with an animal print cloth, against a matte black background.  The cloth and the darkness of his body heighten the racialized dynamic of the image.  The placement of Carter’s black body against a black background is abnormal as  the common practice was placing black bodies against white background in order to enhance the contrast.  Instead the body gets lost, sucked in by his black surroundings.  The Greek statue pops animal skin cloth the man Carter sits are the only thing that breaks up the immense and overwhelming blackness of the photo. We see a faint silhouette of his face.  His features are so shadowed though that it fades into the background.  The play of light on Carter’s muscled body against the matte background creates an interesting play of textures that speaks directly to the implied hardness of the material of Greek figurine held in the sitters hand.  The light is so bright against the small statue that it becomes a silhouette in white, softer than the hand that is holding it.

F. Holland Day (1864-1933), the Photographer of this photo was a Boston Born, Photographer.  He began photography as a hobby in 1886 [1].  By 1889 he joined a professional Camera club.  Possibly because of his own background, being the first generation to receive an education and have a strong interest in the arts from his family, Day worked closely with a Children’s Aid society to help poor children with reading and artistic pursuits.  One of the most famous children mentored by Day was Kahlil Gibran.  Day also funded Gibran’s education.  In 1895 Day opened his own Photography studio, the studio where this photo was taken.

Photography was tool Day used to speak to and play with the way the world was imagined.  This photograph does a fantastic job of showing this.  The image, though not a classic painting brings that to mind.  By playing with the classical male figure, but using a black body holding a classical body as imagined, a classical body that is white, the photograph forces a certain dialogue to happen. The role of Black and White, not just in photography, but in our social and historical perceptions of bodies is in question.  The celebration of an the male form the a black male body brings to mind questions about gender and sexuality, questions that swirled around F. Holland Day himself.

When I saw this picture, I was immediately reminded of not just classical nudes, but the images that would come later from Gordon Parks of black children with white dolls.  This photograph is a grown man, with an aesthetically pleasing body, placed with a small white doll. Rather than the doll representing social beauty and desirability though, the doll represents great civilizations and their knowledge, art, and aesthetics.  I would like to take a detour in speaking about this photograph though. I think it is important to speak of this photo through the experience of looking for it online.  When I decided I wanted to write about it, the first thing I did was a google search.

While I did receive some image search results, on page two of the image results surrounded by lots of guns, I was more struck by the first results, other media results that came up, namely the song Ebony and Ivory by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney (this is also the associated wikipedia page) and the SNL spoof of the same song from 1982.  Though the wikipedia page has links to other things known as Ebony and Ivory, this image is not one of them.  The lyrics of the songs are in a strange conversation with the photograph.

Ebony And Ivory Live Together In Perfect Harmony


We All Know That People Are The Same Where Ever We Go

There Is Good And Bad In Ev’ryone,

We Learn To Live, We Learn To Give

Each Other What We Need To Survive Together Alive.

Ebony and Ivory, Paul McCartney, 1982

Because photography is such an interesting medium to me, because a photo has so many lives, it becomes so interesting to take the intended and unintended meanings of the photograph in conversation with the digital trail that needs to be followed if we want to find out more about what we are seeing.  Knowing that in 1897 F. Holland Day titled this image he created Ebony and Ivory, and that in 1982 an international musical icon used the same wording, and contrasting imagery, though this time on a (classical) piano, to create a song that spoke towards many of the same social issues is something that I find amazing.  That as we move through the digital world they are now placed together in search results says something about the legacy of racial issue across society, media, and time.

1. Fanning, Patricia J. Through an uncommon lens: The life and photography of F. Holland Day. Univ of Massachusetts Press, 2008.

Glenn Ligon, Self Portrait

Glenn Ligon, self portrait exaggerating my black features / self-portrait exaggerating my white features, 1998, silkscreen on canvas


Glenn Ligon is a New York based Conceptual artist.  He has been active since the late 1980s.  Ligon works across media, from sculpture to digital art.  His work examines the intricacies of racial, sexual and gender identity, as well as the social experience of those identities.  His work is highly citational. His first independent showing featured an untitled piece with the text “How it Feels to be Colored Me”, from Zora Neale Hurston.  His Self Portrait  piece featured in this post is in direct conversation/cites Adrian Piper’s own Self Portrait.  However, unlike Piper’s piece, Ligon chose to not exaggerate actual features and instead attempted to create identical photographs.

Glenn Ligon’s Self Portrait, 1998, is a diptych of two seemingly identical portraits of himself.  He is dressed in a button up light colored shirt, collar open, denim jeans, a belt, and a pair of tennis shoes. His arms relaxed at his side though his hands are cupped.  He looks directly at the camera, head slightly tilted to the right, with a neutral expression on his face.  The image is in black and white.  The caption on the left panel reads “Self-portrait exaggerating my black features” in contrast to the right panel’s “Self-portrait exaggerating my white features”.  He stands against a light colored background that meets a darker colored floor.  I start this out by saying that the images are seemingly identical because when I first saw them, I did read the black features image as darker than the white features image.  When I realized the images were supposed to be identical I found myself confused.  Perhaps I was haunted by Ligon’s words, in one of his untitled pieces, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background”.  In the version of this Diptych that I most often encounter (above), the flash on the panel exaggerating black features is brighter, so bright in fact, that it washes out the shirt he is wearing.

The intended meaning of this diptych seems to be to place the viewer in their own head. This seems to be a critique of Piper’s piece that creates an imagined visual difference.  Ligon asks us to contemplate what marks a body as having black features instead of white.  Additionally, the piece seems to be calling attention to the mixedness inherit to the American version of the black body.  The black body in America is the relationship between blackness and whiteness. The black  body that defines both, in as much as whiteness is defined against the black body, but also embodies both, as it is a body that contains both.  Going back to one of Ligon’s other citations, Zora Neale Hurston’s “How it Feels to be Colored Me”, she states “I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief” [1].  It’s a little thing that marks the silliness of defining blackness in a US context even amongst black people.

One of the unintended messages that exists in this photograph for me goes back to that initial reaction to the photos, the place where I was asking, “why does the black features image appear darker?”.  The brightness of the light, and the shadows created by the variation in use of the flash speaks to Sekula’s shadow archive:

“We can speak then of a generalized, inclusive archive, a shadow archive that encompasses an entire social terrain while positioning individuals within that terrain.4″ This archive contains subordinate, territorialized archives: archives whose semantic interdependence is normally obscured by the “coherence” and “mutual exclusivity” of the social groups registered within each” [2].

By marking the two photographs with a textual racial signifier, Ligon places the viewer in a performative space where they are playing with their own view of race with his body as the stage.  He is taking away the obscureness the we normally associate with reading whiteness and bringing it front and center.  I cannot help but wonder how many people were taken aback upon viewing these two version of the photograph and seeing the darkness in the black image like I did, and, instead of looking past the features on his face, the place where we are compelled to look, simply walked away, not realizing the beautiful shadow play on his shirt, a shadow that highlights whiteness and blackness inasmuch as the photos are in black and white.  We are reading the image being about race, when it is a photograph,  a thing created by light.  The features of the light are heightened when displayed in black and white, where all differentiation in color exists on a gradient line between the two.

1. Hurston, Zora Neale. “How it feels to be colored me.” (1928): 152-55.
2. Sekula, Allan. “The body and the archive.” October 39 (1986): 3-64.

Blog Entry: Racial Time, Racial Marks, Racial Metaphors

Photography is a field where the psychic power of fantasy meets the power of the marketplace.  The economic incentive to stimulate viewers who enjoyed visualization of racial difference has affected the ways that numerous photographers in America have represented all the peoples of the country as well as their very choice to do so (41).

From the beginning of the chapter, Fusco marks photography as a space of imagination, where can make it seem as though “we can know who we are and who we were” (13).  She also marks photography as a “public, communal activity” (13).  These two thoughts lead what follows in the rest of the chapter.  Photography becomes a tool of public imagination, and a way to position oneself in society.  One of the most salient ways people are positioned in the United States is through race.  National identity is defined through whiteness both socially and legally, where those bodies marked as not white were granted limited access to rights and social mobility (13-17).  “Rather than recording the existence of race, photography produced race as a visualizable fact” (16).  The legacy of this history is still present, especially when we look at the commodification of ethnicity and race as produced by the entertainment industry (18).  “Because race is an imaginary construct that is also a social fact with political ramifications, the act of making it visible entails generating believable fictions and demonstrating the effect of their credibility” (26).

Part of the construction of race and photography is the imagined distance between groups.  While Fusco does not go in depth into the spatial aspects of Race making in the United States, its presence is still visible throughout the essay.  In the description of the legal and popular consciousness, there is talk of “public acts with measurable effects and a private world of image consumption and fantasy” (18).  She also discusses photography’s ability to render and deliver “interracial encounters that might be dangerous, forbidden, or unattainable as safe and consumable experiences” (20).  Photography places the photographed subject in worlds, and allows the viewer to encounter these worlds.  Though the creation of these worlds is an imagined experience, the act of viewing is an act of both world creating and travelling.  Mass-market photography becomes the “domain for the imagination where fantasies did not have to remain within the bounders of time, space, law, or decorum—but where pleasure was predicated on the awareness of limits and roles” (20). What becomes important is who is creating those worlds and to what ends?

Fusco speaks of the “aestheticizing of natural and of preindustrial societies” created by the visual tropes of photography (21).  I would like to add the idea of anesthetizing nature of seeing the repetition of these tropes over and over again. As the imagined encounter is re-produced and re-encounterd, the thoughts are re-inscribed until they become part of the social reality.  We can see this in action when we think of the proliferation of the heavily airbrushed images is mass-market photographic content.  While we know that most of the photographs are modified beyond recognition, we socially feel more comfortable encountering the imagined ideal than the untouched reality.  Photography allows us to erase some of the space we place between our real and imagined worlds.

In addition to the spatial component of the imagined world of the photograph, another aspect that is central for Fusco, so central that it is in the title of the essay, is time.  Photography created an interesting relationship with time and the other.  “The ethnographic trope of staging evolutionary time” (21), illustrates and interesting disconnect photography creates with regards to time.  If with space, photography allows for a collapsing of worlds, in terms of time, it creates more distance.  The time of the photographed is staged.  When looking at the racial other (in relation to whiteness), time is staged to look as though it is more distant and primitive.  These representations were often exaggerated for the purpose of humor when taken outside of political and scientific propaganda (21).  This is another area I would like to push.  While there is an acknowledgement counter imagery being produced, showing the “Other” dressed as though civilized, what the existence of these two versions does to the temporal aspect of the imagined world of the other is something I find fascinating.  Because the other needed to be staged, today, as in the day of the photograph, as though they are in an imagined then, a there was created.  As such, the temporal aspect of the racialized “Other-as-photograph” exists out of time.  The raced (where race means non-white) body was constructed to be seen at a future time.  This allowed for the racialized body to become a body that could be commodified in specific ways because it became the body to be written, or scripted.  Studios became “laboratories for the fabrication of multiple selves.  Photographed performances of racial transvestisim in which whites could express their repressed ‘inner primitives’ and nonwhites were dressed as wild savages, or demonstrated their abilities to ‘perform whiteness’ were popular” (21-22).   It is this scripting of self and other that we still see in the realms Fusco marks, “music, literature, film television, pornography, tourism, advertising, fashion and beauty products” (22).  The historical legacy of race scripting has not ben erased.

Fusco goes on to frame the exhibit, or rather, put it in context (24-26).  As a project that is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, there seems to be a need to show more than one side.  The topics the book covers are complex, and the exhibit tries to create themes for understanding and engagement.

The second half of the Essay starts to explore the theoretical framework Fusco used in thinking through the project.  The first theoretical stop, “Racial imagery as mythical speech” (26), is clearly a nod to Barthes’ “Myth Today”.  An interesting link is made between Barthes reading of the image of the Black French soldier and Fanon’s concepts of blackness (26).  Fusco states,“when it works effectively…mythical speech makes a particular view of history seem like nature. If we analyze the intent of the myth, we discredit its content as a simple fact of life” (29).  In reading this, I could not help but go back to Fanon, specifically the translation of the title of chapter 5 in Black Skin, White Masks.  The title was originally translated as “the Fact of Blackness” but changed in more recent translations to “the Lived Experience of the Black Man”.  Much like the documentary photographs Fusco analyzes, the title shows something that is first presented as fact, but later revealed to be fabricated, a carefully crafted experience of blackness, or, in the case of the photograph analyzed, American Indians.  As we move further from the time when a photograph was seen as a factual representation, we begin to understand that all photographs carry myths, especially given the role of race in the United States.  In this acknowledgement we open photography to citational play, something Fusco explores in looking at the imagery of Paul Pfeiffer, Todd Haynes and Celia Alvarez Muñoz (29-31).

Fusco offers a succinct genealogy of race in “The evolution of race” (32-35).  This section goes over the linguistic and scientific evolution of the term and concept, as well as the legacies of these realms.  Fusco, through Winant, pushes back on the idea of race being a category that is no longer important (34-35).  She goes goes back to the spatial language of race saying, “it is rooted in a logic that emerges from binary relationships of domination, its meaning is constrained by poles of difference (35).

The last two sections of the essay, “Framing whiteness” (35-41) and “Racial politics and racial fantasies” (41-48), work together to expand on some of the importance of the history and social structures from the first part of the essay.

In framing whiteness a counterpoint to photograph producing the racialized subject is presented.  As much as photography produced the raced body, it also helped solidify the place of whitness and its construction in visual culture (36).  Whiteness exists in the affective resonance of an image, it “does not need to be made visible to be present in an image; it can be expressed as the spirit of enterprise, as the power to organize the material world, and as an expansive relation to the environment” (37).  Normative time and space are the realms of whiteness, something the work of John Baldessari, featured in this section, tries to capture.  The other performance of whiteness that is often visualized in photographs, is patriotism.  This goes back to the creation of myth. We erase bodies of color from the photographic record of patriotic types, such as cowboys, so that the imagined visual reference point is a whitewashed version of the actual (37-38).  Additionally, things such as racial profiling exist to re-racialize populations at times when national security is under threat (38).

The most important part of the last chapter seems to be the relation of power in terms of the racialized image.  Early ethnographic imagery was seen as a means of accessing power vicariously (42). This early relationship to power is something that means that, even though we legally have dismantled racism, it still exists in our visual matrix in much the same way. Fusco calls for a deconstructing of photography and the racial photographic index (43).  She states that we need to critically reflect on what we are given when looking at all forms of photography (45).  We need to do this because even when we look at racial photographs that we see as beautiful today, they are still communicating something to us about race in the present (44).  This, again, relates to the ability of raced photos to collapse time, and inevitable feel inherently political (48).

Pinboard #4: Assimilate/Impersonate, Name/Shame, Vote

Nani Teruya

“Nani Teruya says Hawaii shouldn’t be part of the United States. She doesn’t vote because she believes the government is illigitimate. Still, a member of the Hawaiian royal family urged her to use her vote to push for change.”, From CNN’s Change the List Tumblr Project

The Image is a moving gif.  It features an older woman, who looks as though she is of Hawaiian ancestry, standing outside in the of trees shade wearing sun glasses.  She wears peach Aloha print top.  Her black bra strap is falling down her arm, visible on the right side.  She is wearing a necklace, something we notice as the gif creates a movement in her hand, over and over again as though she is frantically scratching herself just below her neck. She is saying something, but her lips are unreadable.  The mechanical loop of the gift couple with the movement of her mouth makes it looks as though she is doing some nervous lip motion followed by a howl.  The text on top of the image says “CONVINCE ME TO VOTE!!!/#CTL3” as a piece of something moves up and down right next to the C.

This image is a part of a series started by CNN called the change list.  CNN describes the project on the Tumblog as a way to  “Help [CNN] bring change to places and issues that need it most. Our current effort: Bumping Hawaii off the bottom of the United States voter turnout list. This CNN experiment is led by John D. Sutter.”  Limited information is provided about Nani Teruya.  The most important information is that she is choosing not to vote, this despite urging from her royal family, this, despite it being illegal to vote if you believe Hawaii is illegally occupied.  That last part is not part of the story or the image.
The inclusion of the larger narrative, the one that includes the international discussion of the status of the Hawaiian kingdom, is placed under the title “Why Hawaii should be more like… Iraq?”  This titling, coupled with the positioning of the photographs (and the Iraq story) of putting the people against royalty, and the presentation in the gif of Nani Teruya as impersonating the wrong model, by not voting, and moving as though animal is something I find troubling.

Pinboard #3: Life & Language of the Photograph: Eugenic “Family Album” (p. 276)

Page 367, The Crisis, December 1935

Page 367, Featuring and Image of George and Lucille Brantley The Crisis, December 1935

Crisis Cover: Aug-Sep 1951

Lucille Brantley, Crisis Cover: Aug-Sep 1951

In December, 1935, “The Crisis” annual children’s number, amongst Political Cartoons about Texas Lynchings, Ethiopia, and Educational Inequalities, there’s a studio portrait of a little girl and little boy sitting side by side (367).  The caption names them as “George and Lucille Brantley/St. Louis, Mo.”  George, in a sailor inspired outfit, smiles eyes wide, looking directly at the the camera. Lucille, in a dress with short lace sleeves, looks slightly to the right.  Sixteen years later, in August-September 1951 issue we encounter Lucille again.  No longer a child, she is the cover model for the Fortieth Annual Education Number. The biographical information explains that she is the daughter of G.D. Brantley, Principal of Sumner high school, who earned her M.S. degree in June of that year.

The early interrogation of The Crisis in Willis’ “Exposure” and the accompanying quote labelling it as “a kind of eugenic ‘family album’” (275) made me feel a sense of pride and confusion.  While the first photo is one I wasn’t familiar with, I’ve intimately known the second photo most of my life.  I know that in the photos Lucille is 5, and 21.  If you ask her if she remembers sitting for the cover, her answer is “Hell no!! It might just be my graduation photo from grad school” [1].  I know the narrative of her life outside of the photo because she is my Grandmother.  A blown up copy of her cover graces the walls of my grandparents’ house.

The tension of photograph as larger social marker (aspirations/types) vs. family memento helps me understand the multiple lives and languages inherent in photographs of human subjects.  As artifact, the Crisis is digitally available through Google. These photographs are available to anyone with a reasonable internet connection.  Without this action having been done, I would have never seen the photograph of my grandmother with her brother when they were children.  Nor would I have learned about the actions and photographs of their father that the Crisis chronicled throughout his career. For me the Crisis is a family album.
1. Phone Interview, October 26, 2012

Images for Wallis: Black Bodies, White Science

Roland Napoléon Bonaparte, « prince Bonaparte »,

Roland Napoléon Bonaparte, « prince Bonaparte »

[Collection anthropologique du prince Roland Bonaparte. Hottentots. Types ethniques]

[Collection anthropologique du prince Roland Bonaparte. Hottentots. Types ethniques]

[Femmes Hottentotes. Types ethniques]

[“Hottentots”, album de 19 phot. anthropologiques de femmes hottentotes présenté à l’exposition universelle de 1889 à Paris. Des collections du prince R. Bonaparte. Enregistré en 1929]

Only Skin Deep Part 1: Language


Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Your fact is stranger than fiction), 1983 photograph and type on paper

The first sections of Only Skin Deep covered many topics but there were themes that held them together.  The theme I found most interesting, and seemed to spur the most discussion, was the idea of language.  When I think of language, I think of it in terms of writing/composing, reading, speaking, and understanding.   Photography, as discussed in the text, and displayed in the selected photographs, both challenges and expands our ability to do all of these things, especially when it comes to race in the United States.  Questions around language that the text interrogates as discussed in class include:

1. What does photography do or show about the language of race?
2. Is there such a thing as photographic language?
2.5. If yes, where does that language exist around the photo (inside or outside of the frame)?
3. How do we speak/understand what we see when we look at a photograph?

Another area of interest was the idea of staging “the Real”.  The book made it very clear that with how things were staged, composed, and/or edited in photography was done intentionally to create specific images.  Captions, clothing, and props were carefully selected to ensure that the photographs are read a certain way.   Photography, even when staged, is always not not real.  We know that photography shows an actual referent, however, the temporal slippage (we are always looking at the past when we see a photograph, but our temporal distances increases over time), allows us to see what we want.  To go back to language, eventually things get lost in translation, even in photographs.

This all made me think of the Flower Drum Song, a movie that plays with all these different ways we read and stage race/language/the visual:

Inequality by (Interior) Design

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to share this site as a supplement to the book:

From the about page:

I am working on this blog as I begin a project on “man caves” in contemporary couple households. I’m interested in how men and women talk about, use, justify, and decorate man caves.

Gaze Control (Pinboard #2)

A warrior woman, near Kambole

A warrior woman, near Kambole

I shared this photograph in class, but it has stuck in my head since then so I decided to use it as a pinboard post to continue thinking on it in conversation with what we’ve seen in the course so far. The photograph is of a “A warrior woman, near Kambole; insisted on fight with the men” according to the caption. While we do not know much other than the location (the date and name of the photographer are unknown), we do know that at some point the photograph was in the hands of an English speaker, and was probably taken by an English photographer as Zambia was part of the English colony of Rhodesia. The photograph belongs to a larger collection entitled “Scenes of daily life of natives and a foreign missionary in Malawi” (where it states that the collection is from not before 1862.

I offer this image as an intervention. We speak so often of gender, feminism, the male gaze etc, but frame it as only a western phenomenon. In contrast to how we imagine gender and the gaze in Lacanian terms, this image fights the ability of the gaze to control the Other. While this women is placed in the context of colonization, and marked as female, she is playing with gender. As such, her very existence and her gender play make it difficult for her to be marked as a sexual object. While the caption present might have been written in jest (I can imagine it with a “haha” at the end), the way her gaze holds the camera, and the expression on her face, accented by the reflective flecks of some kind of powder make the viewer of the photograph look back at her, and see her in a position of power (over her own body and life) even as she exists in a moment of historical oppression.

These Shoes Were Made for Posing (Pinboard #1)

Louis XIV (1638–1715), by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)This portrait painting of Louis XIV of France was painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1701.  The portrait shows Louis XIV standing in all his finery, positioned in such a way that his red heeled shoes are visible from both the front and the side.  The pose is one that we might consider very feminine by todays standards, but was intended to do two things, 1, it showed off Louis XIV’s legs, which history has led me to believe he was very proud of, and 2, show off his clean red heeled shoes.  Red heeled shoes have recently been in the news to the point that this painting was in Forbes magazine online with the following caption:

This 1701 portrait of Louis XIV shows the Sun King dressed in lavish robes — and red-heeled shoes. Red was a very important color for the monarchy: Sumptuary laws, as well as the high cost of red dyes, meant that you had to be rich and powerful to wear it, and red heels were worn by the monarchy since the early 1600s. But they were especially dear to Louis XIV: He passed an edict claiming only nobility could wear them. According to historian Philip Mansel, the painted heels showed that nobles did not dirty their shoes. They also demonstrated that their wearers were “always ready to crush the enemies of the state at their feet.” Yikes. [1]

This painting, and this extra bit of information from Forbes, helps us frame one of the trends we saw as we were looking at the paintings in the French academy, namely, the inclusion of a bit of toe if not the entire shoe in the French paintings full body portrait and market scene paintings.   Knowing this painting, and the signification of the red shoes helps re-examine what is being shown in paintings such as Aubry’s “Les adieux à la nourrice”.

Another component of this painting that is relevant to the course is what is the portrait saying or showing about the sitter?  Louis XIV was well known at the time.  However, when I look at this painting in dialogue with the portraits of women and women painters we’ve seen, I do not see the same signifiers of family and home life represented.  While his family is well known, and the fleur-de-lis and his shoes serve to mark him as royalty, there are no indications of his marital status or any hints of him having children or great grandchildren.  I would almost say there is no signification pointing towards anything other than his ruling.  The painting says he exists and is, because he is, which is sort of the point of royalty.  At the very least, the painting makes it clear that he is not modest.  This portrait exists to do the exact opposite of that.  Rather than shun opulence, it is a celebration of it from the bottom of his red heeled shoes to his luxurious black wig.