Blurbs by Tom Huhn for two recently published books on photography and painting

Posted by on Oct 20, 2014 in Faculty, Faculty Writings, Other | No Comments

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A few weeks ago, VCS Department Chair Tom Huhn told me that a couple new academic press art books were about to be released with dust jacket blurbs quoted from advance reviews he’d written for the publishers. Last week he showed me his copies of the books, so I scanned the covers and Tom’s comments and thought I’d share them here.

First up is Photography and Its Violations by John Roberts. Here’s the book’s description on the Columbia University Press website, followed by my scan of Tom’s blurb. (You can also find an interview about the book with author John Roberts here.)

Theorists critique photography for “objectifying” its subjects and manipulating appearances for the sake of art. In this bold counterargument, John Roberts recasts photography’s violating powers of disclosure and aesthetic technique as part of a complex “social ontology” that exposes the hierarchies, divisions, and exclusions behind appearances.

The photographer must “arrive unannounced” and “get in the way of the world,” Roberts argues, committing photography to the truth-claims of the spectator over the self-interests and sensitivities of the subject. Yet even though the violating capacity of the photograph results from external power relations, the photographer is still faced with an ethical choice: whether to advance photography’s truth-claims on the basis of these powers or to diminish or veil these powers to protect the integrity of the subject. Photography’s acts of intrusion and destabilization, then, constantly test the photographer at the point of production, in the darkroom, and at the computer, especially in our 24-hour digital image culture. In this game-changing work, Roberts refunctions photography’s place in the world, politically and theoretically restoring its reputation as a truth-producing medium.


The second book is My Father’s House: On Will Barnet’s Paintings by Thomas Dumm, which is described as follows on the Duke University Press website:

In My Father’s House, the political philosopher Thomas Dumm explores a series of stark and melancholy paintings by the American artist Will Barnet. Responding to the physical and mental decline of his sister Eva, who lived alone in the family home in Beverly, Massachusetts, Barnet began work in 1990 on what became a series of nine paintings depicting Eva and other family members, as they once were and as they figured in the artist’s memory. Rendered in Barnet’s signature quiet, abstract style, the paintings, each featured in full color, present the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of a twentieth-century American family.

Dumm first became acquainted with Barnet and his paintings in 2008. Given his scholarly focus on the lives of ordinary people, he was immediately attracted to the artist’s work. When they met, Dumm and Barnet began a friendship and dialogue that lasted until the painter’s death in 2012, at the age of 101. This book reflects the many discussions the two had concerning the series of paintings, Barnet’s family, his early life in Beverly, and his eighty-year career as a prominent New York artist. Reading the almost gothic paintings in conversation with the writers and thinkers key to both his and Barnet’s thinking—Emerson, Spinoza, Dickinson, Benjamin, Cavell, Nietzsche, Melville—Dumm’s haunting meditations evoke broader reflections on family, mortality, the uncanny, and the loss that comes with remembrance.

(A shorter piece by Dumm on the same topic is available at this link, and you can see images of Barnet’s paintings in this exhibition catalog.)


Visual & Critical Studies