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Midget feeble minded crippled lame and insane these terms and the historical photographs that accompany them may seem shocking to present day audiences A young woman with no arms wears a seuined tutu and smiles for the camera as she smokes a cigarette with her toes; a man holds up two prosthetic legs while his own legs are bared to the knees to show his missing feet The photos were used as promotional material for circus sideshows charity drives and art galleries They were found on begging cards and in family albums In Picturing Disability Bogdan and his collaborators gather over 200 historical photographs showing how people with disabilities have been presented and exploring the contexts in which they were photographedRather than focus on the subjects Bogdan turns his gaze on the people behind the camera He examines the historic and cultural environment of the photographs to decipher the relationship between the images and the perspectives of the picture makers In analyzing the visual rhetoric of these photographs Bogdan identifies the wide variety of genres from sideshow souvenirs to clinical photographs Ranging from the 1860s when photographs first became readily available to the 1970s when the disability rights movement became a force for significant change Bogdan chronicles the evolution of disability image creation Picturing Disability takes the reader beyond judging images as positive or slanderous to reveal how particular contexts generate specific emotions and lasting depictions

10 thoughts on “Picturing Disability

  1. says:

    An absolutely fascinating book which though rather academic kept me spellbound and is an easy read This book deals with two topics I am most particularly interested in 1 the treatment of the disabled in the early part of the 20th century and earlier and 2 unsettling or uniue vintage photographs The author covers the periods from the 1860s to the 1970s however the majority of the photographs studied mainly fall between the 1880s and the 1930s The aspect that most drew me to this book and that I appreciated most was that the author investigates the photography of the disabled from the point of view of the purpose of the photographer and photograph within the era and society from which it comes There is no modern chastising The author warns in the Introduction that some people may find his treatise offensive because of this but that is far from the intentions of his sociological intentions I found the book entirely engrossing since I am interested in the fieldThe book is divided into chapters concentrating on one typegenre of photograph each Starting off with circus sideshow promotional photographs and beggar cards while most insensitive by today's standards these are also some of the most controlled by the subject of the photograph as they often than not were in charge of their own publicity The most disturbing chapters for me were the one on medical text photography often eugenics texts photographs from inside mental institutions and most surprisingly art photos which turn a person's deformities pain anguish into art to be critiued for light shadow composition etc The author even discusses the modern use of disabled people as featured in faked natural settings vs the truly natural family album photograph where the disabled friend or family member is included in a manner that does not call attention to their disability I enjoyed the book immensely The book is extremely readable and engrossing for anyone interested in or studying the topic

  2. says:

    The better title would have been Picturing White Disability The book notably excludes any people who are non white even in the section on citizenship which given the history of race citizenship and disability in the US is a glaring oversight It is one that reflects an overall challenge in the field of Disability Studies that the disabled body is imagined as a white body; people of color with disabilities are erased Additionally I'm uncomfortable with much of the language used to describe those pictured Lastly an art historical or visual methodology would enhanced the book

  3. says:

    This book probably is specialized in interest than others of Bogdan's books and harder to enjoy given the subject matter but it's a good survey of the topic with useful references to other works I particularly liked Chapter 10 Citizen Portraits covering photos in which people with disabilities are normalized decades before that term came into use in this sense I'd say this one is less for the average collector for scholars I've already recommended it to some