After Weegee Essays on Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Amer­i­can Photographers

Daniel Mor­ris
  • Review
By – December 2, 2011
Pro­fes­sor Mor­ris pro­vides sig­nif­i­cant insights into the pho­to­graph­ic art and doc­u­men­tary projects of the impos­ing pho­tog­ra­phers dis­cussed in his ten essays. He is sure-hand­ed in sur­vey­ing their tech­ni­cal and the­mat­ic range, keep­ing his crit­i­cal lan­guage acces­si­ble even while pro­ject­ing an author­i­ta­tive, schol­ar­ly voice. How­ev­er, the effort of deal­ing with the Jew­ish fac­tor is strained and odd­ly reduc­tive.

Mor­ris notes, over and over again, the social con­scious­ness of these image mak­ers and their con­cern with the human con­di­tion at the mar­gins. The home­less, the dis­pos­sessed, the mar­gin­al­ized sub­jects of their doc­u­men­tary projects are relent­less­ly tied to the osten­si­ble out­sider iden­ti­ty of the pho­tog­ra­phers, a sta­tus that is a con­se­quence of their Jew­ish­ness – by def­i­n­i­tion. (Annie Liebovitz’s celebri­ty gallery is an excep­tion here, although the show busi­ness world her best-known work explores is also con­sid­ered a Jew­ish cul­tur­al prod­uct.)

It could just as well be that peo­ple on one side of a cam­era are almost invari­ably out­siders to the sub­ject com­mu­ni­ties they approach and record.

Morris’s study, then, suc­ceeds best as a series of essays and not so well as a the­sis-mon­ger­ing whole. Aside from Liebovits, Arthur Fel­lig (Weegee), Bruce David­son, Jim Gold­berg, Mel Rosen­thal, Diane Arbus, Lee Fried­lan­der, Allen Gins­berg, Tya­gan Miller, Marc Asnin, and Mary Ellen Mark are at the cen­ter of these pas­sion­ate­ly wrought essays. Illus­tra­tions, index, intro­duc­tion, works cited.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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