A Communion of Shadows

Religion and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America

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Rachel McBride Lindsey
  • Durham, NC: 
    University of North Carolina Press
    , October
     2017.
     312 pages.
     $29.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781469633725.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Mason Kamana Allred forthcoming.

Description

When the revolutionary technology of photography erupted in American culture in 1839, it swiftly became, in the day’s parlance, a “mania.” This richly illustrated book positions vernacular photography at the center of the study of nineteenth-century American religious life. As an empirical tool, photography captured many of the signal scenes of American life, from the gold rush to the bloody battlefields of the Civil War. But photographs did not simply display neutral records of people, places, and things; rather, commonplace photographs became inscribed with spiritual meaning, disclosing, not merely signifying, a power that lay beyond.

Rachel McBride Lindsey demonstrates that what people beheld when they looked at a photograph had as much to do with what lay outside the frame--theological expectations, for example--as with what the camera had recorded. Whether studio portraits tucked into Bibles, postmortem portraits with locks of hair attached, “spirit” photography, stereographs of the Holy Land, or magic lanterns used in biblical instruction, photographs were curated, beheld, displayed, and valued as physical artifacts that functioned both as relics and as icons of religious practice. Lindsey’s interpretation of “vernacular” as an analytic introduces a way to consider anew the cultural, social, and material reach of religion.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Rachel McBride Lindsey is assistant professor of American religious history and culture in the department of theological studies at Saint Louis University.

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