The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform
In Natural Visions, Finis Dunaway tells the story of how visual imagery—such as wilderness photographs, New Deal documentary films, and Sierra Club coffee-table books—shaped modern perceptions of the natural world. By examining the relationship between the camera and environmental politics through detailed studies of key artists and activists, Dunaway captures the emotional and spiritual meaning that became associated with the American landscape. Throughout the book, he reveals how photographers and filmmakers adapted longstanding traditions in American culture—the Puritan jeremiad, the romantic sublime, and the frontier myth—to literally picture nature as a place of grace for the individual and the nation.
Beautifully illustrated with photographs by Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and a host of other artists, Natural Visions will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in American cultural history, the visual arts, and environmentalism.
Canadian Historical Association: Wallace K. Ferguson Prize
“Looking at photographs by Herbert Gleason, Ansel Adams, and Eliot Porter; New Deal documentaries by Pare Lorentz and Robert Flaherty; and posters and coffee table tomes published by the Sierra Club, Natural Visions tells the story of how pictures helped modern Americans imagine ecology as a new kind of civil religion. In this fresh and insightful book, Finis Dunaway traces the intersections of visual images and religious feeling from the Progressive era to the first Earth Day and convincingly explains how nature photography’s ‘gospel of seeing’ was translated into a moral mission of environmental defense.”
“It is the artists behind the images who interest [Dunaway] most, in particular the way they were carried along by, or leaned against, the political and cultural winds, and how their actions led to the modern environmental movement. He has a fine eye for subtleties, and a light touch.”
“In Natural Visions, Dunaway takes us on a cultural tour of many of the most politically powerful environmental images of the twentieth century, using a richly biographical approach to situate images within their full contexts.”
“Until Finis Dunaway’s Natural Visions, no one had yet produced a history of the camera’s effect on environmental politics. . . . Well written, and at times even poetic, Natural Visions is a compelling study with much to offer both general readers and specialists in environmental representation.”