Assembling California photobooks


  • Audrey Goodman Georgia State University



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.


Adams, Ansel. Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. Pasadena: Archetype Press, 1938.

Alaimo, Stacy. “Trans-Corporeal Feminisms and the Ethical Space of Nature.” Material Feminisms. Eds. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008. 237-263.

Austin, Mary, and Ansel Adams. The Land of Little Rain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950.

Brigman, Anne. Anne Brigman Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Brigman, Anne. A Poetic Vision: The Photographs of Anne Brigman. Ed. Susan Ehrens. Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1995.

Brigman, Anne. Songs of a Pagan. Caldwell: Caxton Press, 1949.

Castleberry, May, ed. Perpetual Mirage: Photographic Narratives of the Desert West. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1996.

Comer, Krista. “Thinking Otherwise across Global Wests: Issues of Mobility and Feminist Critical Regionalism.” Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities 10 (2016): 1-18.

De Buys, William and Joan Myers. Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.

Ehrens, Susan. “Sacred Quest.” A Poetic Vision: The Photographs of Anne Brigman. Ed. Susan Ehrens. Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1995.

Ehrens, Susan. “Alma Lavenson” An Enduring Vision.” Alma Lavenson: Photographs. Ed. Susan Ehrens. Berkeley: Wildwood Arts, 1990. 1-12.
Fagan, Brian. Before California: An Archaeologist Looks at Our Earliest Inhabitants. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Fort, Ilene Susan. “Altered States: California Art and the Inner World.” Reading California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000. Eds. Stephanie Barron, Sheri Bernstein, Ilene Susan Fort. Los Angeles: LACMA/UC Press, 2000. 31-49.

Fernández, Horacio. The Latin American Photobook. New York: Aperture, 2011.

Goeman, Mishuana. “Ongoing Storms.” Critically Sovereign: Indigenous, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. Ed. Joanne Barker. Durham: Duke UP, 2017. 99-126.

Goodman, Audrey. Lost Homelands: Ruin and Reconstruction in the Twentieth-Century Southwest. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2010.

Heyman, Therese Thau, ed. Seeing Straight: The f.64 Revolution in Photography. Oakland: Oakland Museum, 1992.

Lange, Dorothea, and Pirkle Jones. “Death of a Valley.” Aperture 8.3 (1960): 127-164.

Lange, Dorothea and Paul Taylor. An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion in the Thirties. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1939.

Laurvik, J. Nilsen. “Mrs. Annie W. Brigman – A Comment.” Camera Work 25 (1909): 47.

Lavenson, Alma. Alma Lavenson Archive, 1894-1990. Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

Lavenson, Alma. Alma Lavenson: Photographs. Ed. Susan Ehrens. Berkeley: Wildwood Arts, 1990.

Luthin, Herbert W., ed. Surviving Through the Days: Translations of Native California Stories and Songs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Madley, Benjamin. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe. New Haven: Yale UP, 2016.

McPhee, John. Assembling California. New York: Noonday/FSG, 1993.

Online Archive of California. Digital Spacial Collection of the University of California. Last visited April 4, 2018.

Riches, Harriet. “‘Picture Taking and Picture Making’: Gender Difference and the Historiography of Photography.” Interfaces: Studies in Visual Culture. Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2014. 128-150.

Spirn, Ann Whiston. Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Stavans, Ilan. On Borrowed Words. New York: Viking Press, 2001.

Stott, William. Documentary Expression and Thirties America. New York: Oxford UP, 1973.

Stein, Sally. “On Location.” Reading California. Eds. Stephanie Barron, Sheri Bernstein, and Ilene Susan Fort. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. 171-197.

Suttercreek. Sutter Creek Business & Professional Association. Last visited April 4, 2018.

Wells, Liz. Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. London and New York: I. B. Tauris & Company, 2011.

Weston, Edward and Charis Wilson, California and the West. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1940.