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Fugitive Subjects, Contemporary Objects

In the digital age, photography confronts its future under the competing signs of ubiquity and obsolescence. While technology has allowed amateurs and experts alike to create high-quality photographs in the blink of an eye, new electronic formats have severed the original photochemical link between image and subject. At the same time, recent cinematic photography has stretched the concept of photography and raised questions about its truth value as a documentary medium. Despite this situation, photography remains a stubbornly substantive form of evidence: referenced by artists, filmmakers, and writers as a powerful emblem of truth, photography has found its home in other media at precisely the moment of its own material demise.

By examining this idea of photography as articulated in literature, film, and the graphic novel, Daguerreotypes demonstrates how photography secures identity for figures with an otherwise unstable sense of self. Lisa Saltzman argues that in many modern works, the photograph asserts itself as a guarantor of identity, whether genuine or fabricated. From Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home—we find traces of photography’s “fugitive subjects” throughout contemporary culture. Ultimately, Daguerreotypes reveals how the photograph, at once personal memento and material witness, has inspired a range of modern artistic and critical practices.

232 pages | 48 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Art: Art Criticism, Photography

Film Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Media Studies


“Gliding through a breathtaking range of examples in film, photography, literature, and the graphic novel that resist singular interpretations, Saltzman probes her fascination with photography through unexpected pairings from seemingly unrelated works like Blade Runner, The Return of Martin Guerre, and Austerlitz, and artists such as Gregory Crewdson, Cindy Sherman, An-My Lê, and Gillian Wearing, among others. While doing so, she provides a stimulating conceptual journey to reimagine the lasting power of the image while celebrating the fictions photography has always embraced. . . . Recommended.”


“Saltzman masterfully moves between historic precedents and photography’s contemporary manifestations, and, through subtle twists, demonstrates how these phenomena frequently exist as two sides of the same coin. . . . [Her] erudite and eloquent writing transports the reader through a gamut of fascinating, sometimes surprising, and always incisive examples, which challenge conventional photographic thinking in ways that respond more astutely to contemporary realities as well as historical enigmas.”

History of Photography

"Lisa Saltzman's Daguerreotypes: Fugitive Subjects, Contemporary Objects distinguishes itself from most theories of photography, both in content and approach, via a lucid analysis that considers the characteristics of photography less as unique to one medium than as qualities that migrate. . . .  Daguerreotypes will certainly be influential in the field of recent research on phenomena of transmediality, intermediality, and media crossing. Although it avoids these terms, it provides a stimulating overview on contemporary art practices that reject any fixed definition of media."

CAA Reviews

"Saltzman’s monograph presents an interesting and nuanced addition to the work on memory and identity. . .a book that rushes to no easy conclusions or blunt-edged arguments, but is all the better for that."

European Journal of American Culture

“Saltzman’s elegant, easy prose and lovely imagery make for a genuinely engaging text, and her topic—the legacy of daguerreotypical thinking in contemporary art—is both richly layered in history and fresh as a new coat of paint. Original, clever, and convincingly argued, Daguerreotypes is a serious intervention into the history of contemporary art.”

Jane Blocker, University of Minnesota

Daguerreotypes is a superbly insightful investigation that stands on the cutting edge of photography studies. By discussing photography’s referentiality as a ‘vestigial idea’ put to work in text, drawing, and video, these pages are free to explore novel concerns with the medium overlooked in our traditional focus on documentary. Saltzman’s case studies correspondingly enunciate an alternative history and critique of photography defined not by truth, reason, and perfect identity with reality, but rather narrative, emotion, fantasy, and fiction. This inventive approach offers a significant contribution to discussions of the medium.”

Andrés Zervigón, Rutgers University

“Saltzman’s wide-ranging study offers up an exhilarating conceptual journey through the terrain of the photographic imagination, where durational time collides with retrospection and identity confronts loss. In this surprising concatenation of objects and practices, Saltzman deftly unfurls an unexpected and wholly original narrative that reveals the psychological functions and cultural fictions of mechanical representation in the digital age.”

Sabine T. Kriebel, University College Cork

Table of Contents


Introduction:  Daguerreotypes: Fugitive Subjects, Contemporary Objects

One:  Retro-Spectacles: On the Fictions of Contemporary Art Photography

Two:  Orphans: On Émigrés and Images in W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz

Three:  Just Drawings: On Photographs, Fun Home and The Pencil of Nature

Four:  Time Regained: On Stasis and Duration in Contemporary Video Portraits


Illustration Credits

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