From clandestine images of Jewish children isolated in Nazi ghettos and Japanese American children incarcerated in camps to images of Native children removed to North American boarding schools, classroom photographs of schoolchildren are pervasive even in repressive historical and political contexts. School Photos in Liquid Time offers a closer look at this genre of vernacular photography, tracing how photography advances ideologies of social assimilation as well as those of hierarchy and exclusion. In Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer’s deft analysis, school photographs reveal connections between the histories of persecuted subjects in different national and imperial centers.
Exploring what this ubiquitous and mundane but understudied genre tells us about domination as well as resistance, the authors examine school photos as documents of social life and agents of transformation. They place them in dialogue with works by contemporary artists who reframe, remediate, and elucidate them. Ambitious yet accessible, School Photos in Liquid Time presents school photography as a new access point into institutions of power, revealing the capacity of past and present actors to disrupt and reinvent them.
This phenomenal book is about world knowledge and the possibilities that occur with the experience of an education. It is a much needed book that unites individual and group portraits from photographic archives from around the world. By including contemporary artists' reconstructed images of their own past and looking school portraits as a source for questioning identity, the authors invite the reader to recognize the importance of education to a wide range of people. The photographic images in this collection deconstruct and reimagine critical periods in visual culture through formulating ideas about group identity in search of an education. The book opens up old wounds focusing on difference and unites individuals on the basis of similar experiences in distant places. It forces us to be aware of other forms of educational structures that promoted separatism, religious doctrines, racism, and sexism and at the same time guides the reader through a complex visual history of hopeful ambitions. It is a visual testimony that highlights the cultural legacy of education. Engaging read and thoughtfully edited. A must read!
Deborah Willis, New York University
Everyone hates their school photos! But in this brilliant and surprisingly political book, Hirsch and Spitzer show how these seemingly pedestrian vernacular images can often reveal bold challenges to ritualized social conformity.
Brian Wallis, Photography Curator, The Walther Collection
Hirsch and Spitzer take a common and overlooked genre of vernacular photography, the school photo, and bring together images separated by time and place into a compelling conversation, with analysis that is both stimulating and accessible.
Jasmine Alinder, Associate Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
A beautifully written and very readable work that uncovers surprising and counterintuitive resonances between different iterations of school photographs, captured amid historical trauma.
Brett Ashley Kaplan, Director, Holocaust, Genocide, Memory Studies, University of Illinois