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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Photography and the USA

From Ansel Adams to Carleton Watkins, Diane Arbus to Weegee, Richard Avedon to James VanDerZee, American photographers have recorded their vast, multicultural nation in images that, for more than a hundred years, have come to define the USA. In Photography and the USA, Mick Gidley explores not only the medium of photography and the efforts to capture key events and moments through photographs, but also the many ways in which the medium has played a formative role in American culture.

Photography and the USA encompasses the major movements, figures and works that are crucial to understanding American photography, but also pays attention to more obscure aspects of photography’s history. Focusing on works that reveal many different facets of America, its landscapes and its people, Gidley explores the ambiguities of American history and culture. We encounter images that range from an anti-lynching demo in 1934 to Dorothea Lange’s poster “All races serve the crops in California;” an early photographic view of Niagara Falls against the painstaking detail of Edward Weston’s Pepper, No. 30; a fireman’s fight in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to the Ground Zero images of 2001 by Joel Meyerowitz; an 1890s “Wanted” image to Elliot Erwitt’s shot of the Nixon–Kruschchev “Kitchen Debate.” Organizing his narrative around the themes of history, technology, the document and the emblem, Mick Gidley not only presents a history of photography, but also reveals the complexities inherent in reading photographs themselves.

A concise yet comprehensive overview of photography in the United States, this book is an excellent introduction to the subject for American Studies or visual arts students, or for anyone interested in US history or culture.

184 pages | 60 color plates, 50 halftones | 7 1/2 x 8 2/3 | © 2011


Art: Photography

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“Deftly negotiates the complexities of the conjunction at which photography meets geo-cultural history. Gidley’s approach emphasizes that photography’s relationship with the self-image of the US in not merely one in which photography catalogues or documents the development of the nation, but a much more intertwined history in which photography is part of the capacity of the US to make itself anew . . . Photography and the USA intelligently shifts between the popular, sometimes propagandistically national image, the ‘merely’ documentary and the image which functions as cultural critique . . . Gidley’s method makes sense for and of the vastness of his territory.”


“This very interesting work will be a valuable addition to both college and public library collections, and an important source for students of American photography and photographic technology. . . . Highly recommended.”


“Gidley’s book . . . provides an insightful portrait of photography’s stake in shaping American history and identity from its inception, and adding further fuel to claims that American is fundamentally a culture of image.”

Journal of American Studies

“A lucid and engaging consideration of photographic production and its symbiotic relationship with the USA. The book serves as an excellent introduction to the history of photography and the photograph’s role in American culture.”

American Studies

Table of Contents


1   Technologies
2   Histories
3   Documents
4   Emblems

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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