Assembling California photobooks
Keywords:California, photobook, Anne Brigman, Dorothea Lange, Pirkle Jones, Alma Lavenson, Joan Myers, William de Buys
This essay explores how selected 20th-century women’s photobooks resisted regional ideologies of settler mobility by focusing on sites of contact with the land, animating historical voices and visions, and intertwining social and environmental narratives. Through analyzing the arrangement of image and text in Anne Brigman’s Song of a Pagan (1949), Dorothea Lange and Pirkle Jones’s “Death of a Valley” (1960), Alma Lavenson’s “Mother Lode” project (1930s-1970s), and Joan Myers and William de Buys’s Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California (1999), I show how California photobooks both promoted the reader’s tactile and affective engagement with local landscapes at various scales and exposed critical, if incompletely documented, connections between the region’s native and settler histories. When read together with more widely circulated regional texts, I argue, these photobooks now have the critical potential to “unsettle” readers’ ways of seeing and redraw regional boundaries as they provide new opportunities to tell the many stories of California’s past, present, and future.
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