Amateur photography manuals guide incoming fellow’s research
By Kathleen Telling
Kim Beil, a lecturer at Stanford University, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.
She received a 2016–2017 Marlene Nathan Meyerson Photography Fellowship from the Ransom Center in support of her research project, “How To: Photography Handbooks and Vernacular Style.”
Tell us about your research:
I am researching the influence of amateur photography guidebooks on photographic style. Although these guides promised to teach readers how to make photographs, they also served to define the elements of a “good” photograph. Long before Instagram “likes,” good pictures inspired replicas and sometimes acquired monikers to describe their unique visual elements. For example, the “Rembrandt Effect” was the nineteenth-century’s selfie: a technique that rapidly gained popularity and, just as quickly, attracted derision when it saturated the market. I chart the use of trends like these to create a history of photography that reflects the medium’s diverse makers and viewers. The intended result is a book.
Which collections at the Ransom Center are most relevant to your research?
Turn-of-the-century photography manuals and how-to guides for amateurs.
Can you share a particularly exciting moment of discovery while working in other research libraries or special collections?
Even though I was searching specifically for color photographs in the Julius Shulman archives at the Getty Research Institute, nothing prepared me for the shock of seeing Richard Neutra’s 1947 Kaufmann House in full color. This modernist icon in Palm Springs is one of the most widely published architectural photographs of the twentieth century, but Shulman’s cool, high-contrast, black-and-white photograph of the outdoor pool at dusk doesn’t even hint at the warmth of the house’s materials and interior design, which echoed the neutral tones of the desert accented with brilliant yellows and red, like the flowering succulents that ringed the home’s site. This colorful photograph, reproduced on the cover of Los Angeles Times Home Magazine in 1947, became the centerpiece of my article, “The Myth of Black-and-White Modernism: Color Photographs and the Politics of Retrojective Looking,” published in 2015 in Visual Resources. It was a surprising and colorful find!
Beyond researching, what is at the top of your must-see/do list while in Austin?
The Salt Lick barbeque!
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