Radical Sight: Frederick Douglass, Contemporary Photography, and the Visual Folds of Black Subjectivity Open Access

Jones, Jovonna Mara (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/8s45q941p?locale=en


This thesis examines Frederick Douglass' artistic interventions embedded in his 1861 lecture "Pictures and Progress." I argue that this lecture illuminates the limits of modernist notions of subjectivity, and opens a space of alternative philosophic inquiry. Closely reading Douglass' theory of "thought-pictures," I illustrate how the photographic landscape engages Blackness as an avenue of ontological transformation. To further explore the gestures of Douglass' philosophic insights, I look towards theorist bell hooks and contemporary photographer Carrie Mae Weems to elucidate the existential and ethical possibilities of photographic seeing and space. By critically engaging Douglass' theoretical lens through hooks and Weems, I suggest that Black photography offers profound orientations of being, visualizing structures of an existence more expansive than notions of universal humanity and offering a radical ethic of seeing.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter I: Frederick Douglass on the Edge of New Vision 7

i. The Intersection of Early Black American Thought and Photographic Culture

ii. A Philosophy of "Pictures and Progress"

iii. Portraiture and the Limits of Humanistic Framing

Chapter II: bell hooks, Black Loss, and a Frame of Radical Love 28

i. Without Our Glory: A Close-Reading of bell hooks' Reflections on Photography

ii. Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashé, Radical Love, and a Living Archive

Chapter III: Traversing Photographic Space with Carrie Mae Weems 54

i. Weems' Philosophic Intervention on the Black Subject

ii. Body, Space, and Place in "The Museum Series"

iii. Body as Reconfiguring Social Landscape: Reading Weems in Hannah Price's "City of Brotherly Love"

Conclusion 78

Bibliography 83

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