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Title:“True Americanism”: Race and citizenship in Ansel Adams’s photobooks, 1940–1960
Author(s):Johnson, Lauren A.
Director of Research:Weissman, Terri
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Weissman, Terri
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Romberg, Kristin; Rana, Junaid; Miller, Sarah
Department / Program:Art & Design
Discipline:Art History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Ansel Adams
Nancy Newhall
postwar photography
Hawaiian statehood
national parks
racial liberalism
civil rights
Abstract:The American photographer Ansel Adams is well-known for his stunning landscapes of the American West, his efforts to establish photography as a fine art, and his dedication to environmental conservation. Often omitted from the photographer’s legacy is his extensive work with portraiture, his struggles to articulate photography’s social and political potentials, and his close alliances with commercial and state institutions. This dissertation adds nuance to the photographer’s legacy by examining the well-known as well as the overlooked aspects of Adams’s practice within four photobooks produced between 1940 and 1960—Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans (1944), My Camera in the National Parks (1950), The Islands of Hawaii (1958), and Progress Report (unpublished). These photobooks originate from diverse circumstances, from war-time documentary projects to independent creative expression to commercial commissions. Yet, paying particular attention to how these books engage debates around race and citizenship in the United States, I argue they all relate to Adams’s broader project of “True Americanism:” a concerted effort on the part of the photographer to visualize and shape American identity along the lines of whiteness. Expertly employing the format of the photobook to advance his concept of “True Americanism,” Adams redefined the imagined racial and geographic boundaries of the nation for a primarily white audience in the mid-twentieth century. Through projects dedicated to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the social and political value of the national parks, a postwar bid for Hawaiian statehood, and the topic of African-American education, Adams participated in a process of race making within new frameworks of racial liberalism and liberal multiculturalism that both challenged and reinforced the racial status quo. Ultimately, however, Adams’s projects reaffirm racial hierarchies of power and value within U.S. society, contributing to new forms of exclusion.
Issue Date:2019-07-03
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Lauren Johnson
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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