Photographic Returns: Racial Justice and the Time of Photography by Shawn Michelle Smith
In Photographic Returns Shawn Michelle Smith traces how historical moments of racial crisis come to be known photographically and how the past continues to inhabit, punctuate, and transform the present through the photographic medium in contemporary art. Smith engages photographs by Rashid Johnson, Sally Mann, Deborah Luster, Lorna Simpson, Jason Lazarus, Carrie Mae Weems, Taryn Simon, and Dawoud Bey, among others. Each of these artists turns to the past—whether by using nineteenth-century techniques to produce images or by re-creating iconic historic photographs—as a way to use history to negotiate the present and to call attention to the unfinished political project of racial justice in the United States. By interrogating their use of photography to recall, revise, and amplify the relationship between racial politics of the past and present, Smith locates a temporal recursivity that is intrinsic to photography, in which images return to haunt the viewer and prompt reflection on the present and an imagination of a more just future.