Nicholson Wong 2012 half page 275h

Looking at American Lynching Photographs: Canadian Perspectives

Friday, 7 February 2014, at 18:30
Concordia University, EV-1.605 (map)

Judith A. Nicholson

Associate Professor, Communication Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University

Throughout 2000, many Americans looked at lynching photographs for the first time in a controversial exhibition entitled Witness: Photographs of Lynchings from the Collection of James Allen. When lynching photographs were produced and circulated in the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, a politics of spectatorship dictated who had the right to look, both in the photographs and at the photographs. Lynching photographs consolidated a community of white spectators who claimed the right to look. White spectatorship mediated a white supremacist nationalism, which influenced who was regarded as a citizen of the American nation and who was vilified as a threat to the nation.

Nearly a century after lynching postcards were mass produced, many more Americans, and other spectators outside the U.S., have looked at them in the book Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America and on its associated website. How have Canadian spectators looked at and interpreted American lynching photographs in the thirteen years since Witness was displayed and Without Sanctuary was published? With reference to Canadian visual culture commentaries and scholarly interpretations, as well as literary works and visual art produced since 2000, this talk explores whether a Canadian politics of spectatorship is reflected in references to American lynching photographs.

Judith A. Nicholson
is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University and an amateur photographer. She has published in Mediascapes: New Patterns in Canadian Communication (2013; 2010), The Wireless Spectrum: The Politics, Practices and Poetics of Mobile Media (2010), Canadian Journal of Communication (2008) and Fibreculture Journal (2006). A book chapter on “Mobilities and Race” is forthcoming in The Routledge Companion to Mobile Media (2014).

Image: David H.T. Wong, Escape to Gold Mountain (detail, p.91), graphic novel. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012.

Of Related Interest:

Judith Nicholson's faculty page

Without Santuary

Witness: Photographs of Lynchings from the Collection of James Allen

NY Magazine article on Witness exhibition

David Wong's Escape to Gold Mountain