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SECURE THE SHADOW: DEATH AND PHOTOGRAPHY IN AMERICA by Jay RubyReview by: Nina StephensonArt Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, Vol. 14, No. 3(Fall 1995), pp. 36-37Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Art Libraries Society of NorthAmericaStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 00:06Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact .The University of Chicago Press and Art Libraries Society of North America are collaborating with JSTOR todigitize, preserve and extend access to Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of NorthAmerica. This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 00:06:22 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Art Documentation, Fall 1995 OBJECTS OF POWER AFRICAN VODUN: ART, PSYCHOLOGY AND POWER / Suzanne Preston Blier. ?Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. ?487p.: ill. ?ISBN 0-226-05858-1; LC 94-2180: $50.00. The psychological dimensions of African art have been little examined?at best misunderstood?so a serious study that con centrates on the hidden power of objects and the meaning behind that potency is long overdue. Welcome Suzanne Blier's African Vodun, an investigation of the psychological impact of certain West African objects on human behavior. She explores how spiritual powers are mediated through sculptural objects associated with the religious belief system known as vodun, which is practiced in coastal areas of West Africa, especially in B?nin and Togo. From the old slave coast, as this part of West Africa used to be known, vodun was carried across the Atlantic, where it is still widely prac ticed in Haiti and other African-derived cultures of this hemisphere. The sculptures of vodun (known as bochio) are unsublime, anti-aesthetic objects, rudely carved, often ladened with additive materials of all sorts?beads, shells, cords, fur, feathers, bits of cloth, leather, or metal. Their power and efficacy derive from this textured, sensate appearance. Blier distinguishes between com moners' bochio and those associated with royalty of the Fon kings, in terms of form and material, but the underlying psychology re mains the same. Blier, a professor of African art history at Harvard University, places these bochio within several theoretical frameworks?his torical, art historical, anthropological, and psychological. Her study revolves around questions of empowerment, status, reversal/in version of roles, mental process, and coping strategies. Thus it speaks to larger concerns within other disciplinary arenas beyond that of African art history. She brings to light the psychotherapeutic function of these bochio and the qualities they embody: danger, force, resistance, roughness, secrecy, concealment, and counter aesthetic. One of the methodological dilemmas that Blier faced was how to approach a subject that is inherently secret and hid den. It is not something people talk about freely?either the ob jects themselves or their meaning. Yet, her aim is not just to un derstand the meaning of the bochio, but to get at the best method ological approach to understand the process by which objects mediate within society, how they become agents in human nego tiations and interactions, and how they manage to exert power that compels people to act. The bochio may protect the individual from unseen or unspecified dangers or evil, they may be prescrip tive or therapeutic in determining a course of action, or they may be cathartic in resolving some inner or interpersonal conflict. The dynamic between artist and audience, between agent and activa tion, and between visual medium and critical response are brought into play by the bochio. African Vodun is addressed to academic audiences; despite its weighty and complex subject and the unavoidable use of many non-English terms, it is written in lucid prose. The numerous il lustrations (most are, appropriately, in black and white) show the immense variety of forms that these bochio figures and assemblages take. Many of those illustrated are from European and American museum collections, and others are field photographs o? bochio in situ; all are identified. Earlier writings on the bochio are few and not readily accessible to art libraries, as they are published in eth nographic periodicals or in relatively obscure travel literature. Af rican Vodun is certainly a must for any art library collecting Afri can art literature as well as for those concerned with the psychol ogy of art. With our flourishing interest in alternative religious beliefs and practices, the publication o? African Vodun is timely. An exhi bition on The Sacred Arts of Vodu, with accompanying catalogue, will open later this year at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA. In 1993, an extraordinarily well received exhibi tion (and catalogue) was seen in Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas (Museum for African Art, New York). Clearly, there is growing interest in African religious art in the Diaspora. So begin your library collecting with African Vodun, Face of the Gods, and Sacred Arts of Vodu. Janet L. Stanley National Museum of African Art Hidden Mementos SECURE THE SHADOW: DEATH AND PHOTOGRAPHY IN AMERICA/Jay Ruby?Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, May 1995.? 213 p.: ill.?ISBN 0-262-18164-9; LC 94-23118: $39.95. Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America, the re sult of over 10 years of research by anthropologist Jay Ruby, is a scholarly study on photographs of the deceased. Postmortem pho tography is often considered a 19th-century phenomenon that waned with the passing of the Victorian era. Ruby's research re vealed that this practice, while infrequently examined, is not un common today in the United States, especially among certain eth nic groups and social classes. His primary concern is the use of postmortem images by families and friends as a means of coping with the death of loved ones. This book encompasses postmortem photography and related artifacts, such as, mourning photographs and jewelry, memorial photography (using portraits taken while the subjects were still alive), memorial and funeral cards, and illustrated tombstones from a large number of institutions, private collections, and cemeteries. The author covers precursors of postmortem photography, such as, mortuary and posthumous paintings, progressing to 20th-cen tury developments, including Polaroid snapshots, video memori als, and a proposed "talking" tombstone. The glossary, footnotes, bibliography, index, and list of figures will satisfy the scholarly reader. Little is known about contemporary postmortem photographs due to the public sentiment that such images are morbid or offen sive. This stance stems from a societal ignorance of death and the cultural activities surrounding it. According to Ruby, Americans are caught between the cultural expectation of commemorating significant occasions with the camera and the widespread belief that material reminders of the deceased are unhealthy and pro long bereavement. This is in marked contrast to the last century, when families displayed and readily discussed postmortem por traits, and photographers openly advertised such services. In many cases, particularly with children, postmortem photographs were the first and last portraits taken of the deceased. This is some times true today, especially with respect to stillborn infants. Such photographs continue to have therapeutic value for many griev ing families despite the societal pressure to shun such images. Ruby's approach differs from that of others who have dealt with postmortem photography in that he eschews conventional art historical methods in favor of those taken from anthropology, social history, and ethnography. In his words, he offers "an alter native to the dominant attitude that photography is best under stood as a form of fine art." Ruby examines images within a larger societal, cultural, and historical context to learn about the per sonal and social meanings people have given them. The design of this handsome book is consistent with this approach, as the black and-white reproductions are found throughout the text, rather than segregated as is often the case in fine art photography books. The author focuses on the commonplace in his choice of photographs; hence the images vary in terms of aesthetic appeal. This is in marked contrast to Stanley Burns's Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Pho tography in America (New York: Twelvetrees Press, 1990) and Bar bara Norfleet's Looking at Death (Boston: D. R. Godine, 1993). In This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 00:06:22 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Documentation, Fall 1995 37 these books, postmortem photographs are presented in a pristine format designed to enhance their formal qualities, with little ac companying text. While Ruby acknowledges their beauty, he criticizes the aestheticization and commodification of historical postmortem photographs, since this separates the images from their cultural and societal moorings. He also questions their association with the pathological, as in Michael Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973), and challenges their treatment as ghettoized folk art in James Van Der Zees Harlem Book of the Dead (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Morgan & Morgan, 1978). Ruby wrote this book for photography historians, American history scholars, social scientists, and health care professionals concerned with death and mourning. I believe he has succeeded admirably, although I would like to see more on the therapeutic use of photographs in the grieving process. This publication be longs in all history of photography collections and in academic and research collections serving American history and social sci ences programs. It offers a cogent analysis of postmortem photog raphy and will complement the other publications mentioned above. Nina Stephenson University of New Mexico I ~ Best/Worst Modernism PIETRO BELLUSCHI: MODERN AMERICAN ARCHITECT / Meredith L. Clausen.?Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, January 1995.?478 p.:ill.?ISBN 0-262-03220-1; LC 94-20789: $60.00. Pietro Belluschi: Modern American Architect is the first com prehensive monograph on this important figure in 20th-century American architecture. When Pietro Belluschi died on February 14, 1994, at the age of 94, his career had spanned over half of the 20th century. Belluschi worked as an architect in Portland, Or egon, where he was a major figure in the development of the ar chitectural style of the Pacific Northwest during the first half of the 20th century; he was also the dean of the School of Architec ture and Planning at MIT from 1951 to 1965, where, in addition to his academic work, he worked as a consultant for many projects being developed on the east coast. The book covers Belluschi's life from his childhood in Italy to his death in Portland. It is copiously illustrated with photographs, drawings, some plans and elevations, although not all buildings discussed are illustrated. Although there are a few color plates, most of the illustrations are black-and-white photographs. Nearly all of the photographs were taken around the time each building was completed, which gives the reader a good understanding of the physical context for which the buildings were designed. Un fortunately, the illustrations are not numbered, hence there is no reference made as to where the reader might find an illustration of a particular building being discussed or, indeed, if an image of that building is included in the book. The author also includes a chronological list of selected buildings and projects with which Belluschi was involved, a bibliography of works both by and about Belluschi, and an index. Many articles and a few books have been published about Belluschi, including The Northwest Architecture of Pietro Belluschi (New York: F W. Dodge Corporation, 1953), an early look at his work prior to leaving for MIT, and Spiritual Space (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1992) by Meredith Clausen, an excellent examination of his designs for religious architecture. Although Belluschi was a generalist, most works about him, with a few exceptions, have focused on a particular building or build ing type; this volume is more representative of his output, as it includes a mixture of the building types he designed. It is intended to be an overview of Belluschi's life and work. By examining the social, economic, and architectural climate of both regions in which he worked, as well as the United States in general, Clausen is able to provide the reader with a cohesive and interesting discussion of the work of Pietro Belluschi and his impact on the field of archi tecture in the United States. In the preface, Clausen states that her goal in writing this book "was not to judge but to understand, and to consider him and his work in the context of a vastly complicated, constantly changing time." Throughout his career, Belluschi was an ardent proponent of modernism; because of his adherence to these prin ciples, in the beginning his work was seen to exemplify the best of the modernistic style. As the times changed, but his philosophy did not, his work increasingly drew criticism and was then seen, in turn, to exemplify the worst of the modernistic style. In dis cussing the changes in architectural styles and philosophy, and Belluschi's reaction to them, Clausen presents an unbiased exami nation of the changes. The content is well researched and schol arly?Clausen conducted numerous interviews with Belluschi? and the writing style is easy to read. The book is appropriate for public libraries, academic libraries, and anyone who is interested in the development of 20th-century architecture. Ann M. Lally Clemson University 1 I Radical Visionaries UTOPIA AND DISSENT: ART, POETRY, AND POLITICS IN CALIFORNIA / Richard Candida Smith.?Berkeley, CA: Univer sity of California Press, March 1995.?562 p.: ill.?ISBN 0-520 08517-5 (cl., alk. paper); LC 94-41886: $35.00. Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry, and Politics in California traces the art scene in California from its isolated beginnings in the 1920s to its development in the 1950s and '60s as a mainstream influ ence in contemporary American art and culture. Rather than present a straight chronological overview of the artists and their works and how they fit into the current artistic and political movements surrounding them, Smith concentrates on the artists' personal backgrounds and life experiences that molded their artistic visions. Specifically, the author emphasizes that much of the development of the California art scene was based on the personal visions of artists, particularly in the '30s and '40s, due to their isolation from an established arts community. The book is comprised of three parts: "Modernism Trans planted," "Mythopoesis and Self-Narration," and "Return to His tory." Each part is subdivided into four or five topical chapters. "Modernism Transplanted" begins in the late 1920s with post surrealist artists Helen Lundeberg and Lorser Feitelson and con cludes with the resurgence of the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco under the direction of Douglas MacAgy, in the mid 1940s. The works of poet Kenneth Rexroth and his role as a spokes person for the radical literature and painting of the '30s are the focus of the second chapter in this section. Chapter three describes the effect of the GI bill on the study of the arts in California uni versities and art schools; such artists as Clay Spohn, Lee Mullican, Conner Everts, Robert Irwin, and Wally Hedrick attended Califor nia schools under the GI Bill, studying with established artists like Elmer Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn. And chapter four gives an in-depth account of the renaissance of the fledgling Cali fornia School of Fine Arts under the leadership of Douglas MacAgy. "Mythopoesis and Self-Narration" concentrates on the 1950s and early 1960s, particularly the Beat poets Kerouac and Ginsberg and their ties with visual artists of the period, such as, Manuel Neri, Joan Brown, Wally Hedrick, Jay DeFeo, and Wallace Berman. The author explores the roles of the Beat phenomenon and bohemianism on the development of the counter-culture and This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 00:06:22 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Contentsp. 36p. 37Issue Table of ContentsArt Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Fall 1995), pp. 1-42Front MatterFrom the editor [pp. 2-2]French Canadian Art Periodicals [pp. 3-5]Visual Art Periodicals in Canada: Present Tense and Future Prospects [pp. 7-9]Design, Photography, and Multimedia Serials in Canada [pp. 11-14]Correction: ARLIS/NA at Montral, 1995 [pp. 15-15]Native Arts and Decorative Arts Journals [pp. 17-18]Beyond the Book: Electronic Sources of Information on Architecture in France [pp. 19-23]From the Treasurer [pp. 25-26]Bibliographic Notes [pp. 27-29]The Review SectionReview: untitled [pp. 31-32]Review: untitled [pp. 32-32]Review: untitled [pp. 32-33]Review: untitled [pp. 33-33]Review: untitled [pp. 33-33]Review: untitled [pp. 34-34]Review: untitled [pp. 34-35]Review: untitled [pp. 35-35]Review: untitled [pp. 35-35]Review: untitled [pp. 36-36]Review: untitled [pp. 36-37]Review: untitled [pp. 37-37]Review: untitled [pp. 37-38]Review: untitled [pp. 38-39]Review: untitled [pp. 39-39]Review: untitled [pp. 40-40]Review: untitled [pp. 40-41]PUBLICATIONS RECEIVED [pp. 41-42]Back Matter


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