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Race and Photography

Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876-1980

Race and Photography studies the changing function of photography from the 1870s to the 1940s within the field of the “science of race,” what many today consider the paradigm of pseudo-science. Amos Morris-Reich looks at the ways photography enabled not just new forms of documentation but new forms of perception. Foregoing the political lens through which we usually look back at race science, he holds it up instead within the light of the history of science, using it to explore how science is defined; how evidence is produced, used, and interpreted; and how science shapes the imagination and vice versa.
Exploring the development of racial photography wherever it took place, including countries like France and England, Morris-Reich pays special attention to the German and Jewish contexts of scientific racism. Through careful reconstruction of individual cases, conceptual genealogies, and patterns of practice, he compares the intended roles of photography with its actual use in scientific argumentation. He examines the diverse ways it was used to establish racial ideologies—as illustrations of types, statistical data, or as self-evident record of racial signs. Altogether, Morris-Reich visits this troubling history to outline important truths about the roles of visual argumentation, imagination, perception, aesthetics, epistemology, and ideology within scientific study.  


"Race and Photography is an extraordinary book exploring the entanglements of race, photography, and visual perception to illuminate a complex network of people, practices, theories, and technologies."

Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences

“In this brave, clear-eyed book, Morris-Reich confronts racial photography on its own terms: as a form of scientific evidence. Without for a moment forgetting the political contexts of racial photography, he shows that ideology alone is insufficient to explain the origins, varieties, and power of racial photography and the aims of its diverse practitioners. This is a remarkably attentive book: scrupulously attentive to historical context, the shifting epistemologies that framed photography, and, above all, the visual details of the photographs themselves.”

Lorraine Daston, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

“An important, smart book about how visual argumentation works. It goes beyond its primary subject—the way photographs of Jews were used in nineteenth- and twentieth-century German studies of race—and even beyond the study of photography or anthropology to the area of visual studies as a whole. Its clear and important methodological analyses contribute substantially to this subject.”

Margaret Olin, Yale University

“This brilliantly researched, brave, and sophisticated analysis offers a much-needed account of how photographs worked as evidence within racial science. By bringing scientific purpose—however aberrant—to the center of his analysis, Morris-Reich demonstrates how certain forms of photographic practice and evidence became thinkable at given historical moments with their accompanying scientific agendas. While the larger devastating and catastrophic consequences are well known, this important and thoughtful book helps us to understand debates about race as a deeply woven yet fluid matrix of the methodological, ideological, and sociological forces that produced these photographs as scientific tools of racial imagination.”

Elizabeth Edwards, De Montfort University

Table of Contents


Note about Scanning and Reproduction of Photographs 


1 · The Type and the Gaze: Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876–1918

2 · Racial Photographs from Icons to Schemes: The “Case” of Central and Eastern European Jews, 1880–1927

3 · Serialization as Construction of Meaning: The Photographic Practice of Hans F. K. Günther in Context

4 · Racial Photographs as “Thought Experiments”: The Photographic Method of Ludwig Ferdinand Clauß

5 · Racial Photography in Palestine



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