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date: 18 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the relationship between realist literature and photography since their emergence in the mid-nineteenth century. Both media responded to the challenges of modernity by contriving new means of representing reality. Whereas photography became the standard for objective reproduction following the pictorial turn, realist authors including Henry James and Paul Laurence Dunbar honed literature’s capacity to focus on inner realities, such as subjective experience and memory, impossible to capture in a photograph. Jacob Riis, in turn, adopted the aesthetic of the urban picturesque for How the Other Half Lives, a photo-textual record of immigrant life in New York serving as a precursor for the documentary books of the Great Depression, which advocated national relief programs to alleviate the distress of rural Americans. Countering such facile approaches to complex realities, James Agee and Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, finally, presents a fundamental critique of representation itself.

Keywords: modernity, photography, representation of reality, pictorial turn, urban picturesque, documentary book, memory

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