Book review: Print the Legend by Martha Sandweiss

A mid-nineteenth century daguerrotype of Native American lodges.
(Source)

Print the Legend is an impressive contribution on multiple planes, for Martha Sandweiss not only recounts the complex history of the use of photography in the American West between 1840 and 1890, she also guides both the general reader and historian alike in the process of rethinking how we interpret and utilize photography. She posits two ways to think of how we interpret and use photographs as primary source documents: in history, which requires knowledge “about the circumstances of its making, the photographer’s intent, the public function of the image, the ways in which it was received and understood by contemporary audiences” (p. 9) and through history, in which “we must give attention to the shifting fate of the image—the ways in which it might have moved into archives or attics, museums or scrapbooks, and the ways in which it has been reinterpreted over time” (p. 9). The title of the book is a reference to a quote from the 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance, in which the newspaper editor states: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes a fact print the legend” (p. 324). This highlights Sandweiss’s encompassing theme of the difficulty of promoting photography in the face of more mythologized media such as painting and printmaking. Print the Legend is highly marketable to a wide variety of audiences: her prose is eloquent and easy to read, and the book itself, which is printed on high-quality glossy paper, is aesthetically pleasing and can be distributed in multiple types of settings, such as major bookstores and museums. Sandweiss is currently a history professor at Princeton University, but her background as a photography curator at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth and as a professor of American Studies allows her to tackle her subject matter with a fresh and unique perspective than she in turn is able to effectively communicate to multiple types of readers.  Continue reading

Life Lessons and Vintage Photos

I spent the better part of the last month in an academic hole, preparing for and taking my comprehensive exams (and it has already been confirmed that I passed the minor portion). In my anxiety-ridden state, I thought a lot about my Grandma. I thought about words of comfort she may have had– especially her favorite quote, “This, too, shall pass”– or life lessons that are far more worth remembering than issues in the methodologies of Andre Breton versus Georges Bataille. Since it is high time that I upload the photos I said I would in my To Grandma(s) page (which has now been updated), I would like to share some of these thoughts.

ca. 1942

Always store your photos in acid-free materials.

ca. 1930

Take some time to relax and smell the flowers.

Continue reading