Group f.64 Photography and the Object World


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art and Archaeology


During the early 1930s, US photographers deliberated photography’s role in illuminating and ameliorating the social crises of the Great Depression. Many photographers on the West Coast remained intent on promoting the medium as a creative art. Others, more concerned about California’s violent labor disputes, believed that photography should have a directly political objective. Intervening in these public contests in complex ways, from 1932-35 the Bay Area photography collective Group f.64 exhibited “straight,” unmanipulated photographs of inanimate objects, portraits of colleagues, and images depicting African American sitters, shot close-up, cropped, and with glossy surfaces. Through a close study of the collective’s images and actions, current events, and contemporary photography movements, this dissertation shows how the group’s investments in the object world and the visual operations of straight photography revise conceptions of politically engaged artistic practice, race, and social relations in the Depression-era United States.