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Photography and the book: from Fox Talbot to Christian Boltanski

Durden, Mark (1994) Photography and the book: from Fox Talbot to Christian Boltanski. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86071) (KAR id:86071)

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Photography and the Book examines the use of photograph in differing books, from Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature to the photo-books of the contemporary French artist, Christian Boltanski. Spanning nearly 150 years of photography, from the first book with photographic plates to artist's books produced from the late 1960s to early 1990s, the choice of books develops a thematics of photography and truth.

The thesis consists of two parts, the first looking at photography and the book in the nineteenth century, the second examining books in the twentieth century. My discussion of Talbot's The Pencil of Nature considers the status of this first book with photographic plates, and will be showing gow it reflects a self-reflexive fascination with photography. Chapter Two looks at the photo-books of Peter Henry Emerson, discussing his attempts to bring photography closer to the truth of a corporealised vision. Chapter three discusses photography as described in two nineteenth century novels, as a means of revealing truth of character in Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables and as a means of deception and misrepresentation in Thomas Hardy's A Laodicean. Chapter four looks at truth in books of science, focusing on the use of the composite photograph as a means of representing the essence of criminality.

Part two begins with an analysis of James Agee's and Walker Evans's documentary book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It examines the problematics involved in representing poverty. Chapter six will consider the photo-texts of the American writer and photographer, Wright Morris. Here photography, particularly the amateur snapshot, is treated as a talismanic object and stands for a particular truth of experience. The following discussion of Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida will examine the role of photography in a book of theory, behind which lies a metaphysical attachment to the evidential force of certain photographs. An analysis of the artist's books of Christian Boltanski will bring the thesis to a close and up to date, as I examine the whole issue of truth and photography through such bookworks as Detective which mixes uncaptioned portraits of killers and their victims, a book of portraits which exposes photography's limited capacity to convey information about those depicts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86071
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: History of Art; Photography; Theory of Art; Books
Subjects: N Visual Arts
T Technology > TR Photography
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:27 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:27 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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