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Writing the body: The hypertext of photography

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In Canada and the United States the transformative value of a photograph was quickly recognized for nation building, and this new invention soon served a purpose in public memory. Its uses expanded from surveying lands to promoting population growth, tourism, artistic expression and to imagining virtual communities. Photography's narrative, however, offers readers a commentary on knowledge, identity and memory within an interactive space that is a dialogue between subject and photographer and a visual writing the body. A subject's presence and intentionality through this writing the body is a significant locus for knowledge and alterity - the construction of cultural otherness. Indigenous people viewing early photographs of family members may glimpse past a genre's rhetoric and actually experience their people in a lived historical moment. This essay examines the genre rhetoric of E.S. Curtis's photographs and Indigenous writing the body as a source of mnemonic knowledge. Photography addresses our senses and extends them while it gives form to a knowledge of being in a photographic hypertext that evokes public memory and references the personal, social and political.

Keywords: E. S. Curtis; Indigenous; Native American; alterity; body politic; cultural immunity; hypertext; memorial spaces; mnemonic; performativity; photography; post-memory; postcolonial; public memory; semiotics; visual ethnography; wampum belt

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: York University, Canada.

Publication date: 2009-10-01

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  • The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those that traverse cultures and nations.
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