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The American Photo-Text, 1930-1960

Caroline Blinder


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Focuses on the intersections between text and photography in the twentieth-century American photo-text

This critical study of the American photo-text focuses on the interaction between text and images in twentieth-century American photography as well as the discourse surrounding image-text collaboration on a wider level. In looking at books designed as collaborative efforts between writers and photographers and by photographer/writers adding their own narrative text, it establishes the photo-text as a genre related to and yet distinct from other documentary efforts.

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List of Illustrations
Introduction: The American Phototext

Part I: The 1930s

1. Portraiture as Place: From Pictorialism to Modernism
Doris Ulman and Julia Peterkin’s Roll, Jordan, Roll (1933)

2. Articulating the Depression: Two Contesting Visions
Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor’s American Exodus (1939) and Margaret Bourke White and Erskine Caldwell’s You Have Seen Their Faces (1937)

3. Establishing A photographic Vernacular
Walker Evans’s American Photographs (1938)

Part II: The 1940s

4. ‘A Book for All that’: Modernism as Documentary Practice
James Agee and Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941)

5. The American Heartland: Interrogating a Post-War Pastoral
Wright Morris’s The Inhabitants (1945) and The Home Place (1948)

6. ‘Their First Murder’: Hardboiled Captions and Flashgun Aesthetics
Weegee’s Naked City (1945)

Part III: The 1950s

7. An American Alphabet: Writing Democracy in New England
Paul Strand and Nancy Newhall’s Time In New England (1950)

8. Back at Home: Neighborhood and Community in the 1950s
Langston Hughes and Ray DeCarava’s Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955)

9. ‘On The Road’: The Photographer as Outsider
Jack Kerouac’s Introduction to Robert Frank’s The Americans (1959)


About the Author

Caroline Blinder is Lecturer in English and American Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London. Blinder has written extensively on the intersections between photography and text, starting with Henry Miller’s work on Brassaï in her first book, A Self-Made Surrealist: Henry Miller (1999) and since then in book chapters and articles on amongst others, Walker Evans, Paul Strand, Weegee, Robert Frank, and recently Richard Misrach. She teaches American Literature, Film, and Culture at Goldsmiths University. London.


Blinder’s astute readings are framed within a sophisticated understanding of the aesthetic and political contexts of the period, alert to the incongruities and nuances of the collaboration between photographers and writers, images and text. This is a powerful study of the work that has defined American culture.

- Miles Orvell, Temple University

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