The Absent Present: Picturing the Poor in the Nineteenth Century

Thursday 15 November at 17:00 in EV-1.615
Concordia University

Mary Warner Marien
Syracuse University

During photography's first decade in Britain, issues of poverty, child labour, factory abuses, and public health dominated parliamentary social reports, as well as surveys conducted by private agencies. Newspapers and journals regularly reported on these subjects, and illustrated them with sensational engravings showing the plight of the poor. In addition, novelists wrote fiction about factories and the poor, and their efforts were frequently illustrated with images showing abject misery.

But where are the photographs? This lecture shows the prominence of non-photographic images of the poor and speculates on why photography was not enlisted to verify such urgent social reporting.

Mary Warner Marien is the author of numerous articles, book reviews, and essays on photography and other subjects. Her book, Photography and Its Critics: A Cultural History was named one of the two best books in photographic history for 1997. She is also the author of Photography: A Cultural History (2002, 2nd Ed. 2006), a new survey of the history of photography, with special emphasis on contemporary global practice. Her current research project is an investigation of the women's movement in the late twentieth-century and its relationship to feminist art and art theory.

Image: “Condition of the Poor,” from The Pictorial Times, v.8 no. 187 (Saturday, October 10, 1846).