Coral Empire

9781478003182: Hardback
Release Date: 20th March 2019

9781478003823: Paperback
Release Date: 20th March 2019

16 page color insert

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 296

Duke University Press Books

Coral Empire

Underwater Oceans, Colonial Tropics, Visual Modernity

Ann Elias traces the history of two explorers whose photographs and films of tropical reefs in the 1920s cast corals and the sea as an unexplored territory to be exploited in ways that tied the tropics and reefs to colonialism, racism, and the human domination of nature.
Hardback / £85.00
Paperback / £22.99

From vividly colored underwater photographs of Australia's Great Barrier Reef to life-size dioramas re-creating coral reefs and the bounty of life they sustained, the work of early twentieth-century explorers and photographers fed the public's fascination with reefs. In the 1920s John Ernest Williamson in the Bahamas and Frank Hurley in Australia produced mass-circulated and often highly staged photographs and films that cast corals as industrious, colonizing creatures, and the undersea as a virgin, unexplored, and fantastical territory. In Coral Empire Ann Elias traces the visual and social history of Williamson and Hurley and how their modern media spectacles yoked the tropics and coral reefs to colonialism, racism, and the human domination of nature. Using the labor and knowledge of indigenous peoples while exoticizing and racializing them as inferior Others, Williamson and Hurley sustained colonial fantasies about people of color and the environment as endless resources to be plundered. As Elias demonstrates, their reckless treatment of the sea prefigured attitudes that caused the environmental crises that the oceans and reefs now face.

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Part I. The Coral Uncanny
1. Coral Empire
2. Mad Love
Part II. John Ernest Williamson and the Bahamas
3. Williamson and the Photosphere
4. The Field Museum—Williamson Undersea Expedition
5. Under the Sea
6. Williamson in Australia
Part III. Frank Hurley and the Great Barrier Reef
7. Hurley and the Floor of the Sea
8. Hurley and the Australian Museum Expedition
9. Pearls and Savages
10. Hurley and the Torres Strait Diver
Part IV. Hurley and Williamson
11. Explorers and Modern Media
12. Color and Tourism
Part V. The Great Acceleration
13. The Anthropocene
Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Ann Elias is Associate Professor of the History and Theory of Contemporary Global Art at the University of Sydney, author of Camouflage Australia: Art, Nature, Science, and War and Useless Beauty: Flowers and Australian Art, and coeditor of Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance.

“Ann Elias's Coral Empire is as intoxicating as a plunge into a reef lagoon: a refreshingly original and compelling analysis of how the underwater coral realm has evolved from a planetary space of fathomless mysteries and alien terrors to become a complex technology-driven spectacle that feeds the rampant imaginations, pleasures, vices, and curiosities of modern humans.”

Iain McCalman, author of
The Reef: A Passionate History: The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change

Coral Empires is a brilliantly researched, aesthetically nuanced study of early photographic and film imagery representing coral reefs, one of the most gorgeous areas of the undersea, which is the least explored dimension of the blue humanities. Focusing on how coral came to be captured and exhibited in visual media of the twentieth century, and expanding to coral's transformed presence in museological displays, Ann Elias shows the power of imagery and exhibition to create our imagination and relation to the inaccessible undersea. In the process, Coral Empire tracks changing human interactions with the environment of the coral reef that became a tourist destination in the early twentieth century and that is at the forefront of exhibiting the devastating impact of climate change today.”

Margaret Cohen, author of
The Novel and the Sea