by Natalia Brizuela and Jodi Roberts. Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University and Stanford University Press, March 2018. 232 p. ill. ISBN 9781503605428 (h/c), $40.00.

Reviewed July 2019
Bridget Nowlin, Visual Arts Librarian, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, WA, bnowlin@cornish.edu

brizuelaThe Matter of Photography in the Americas, by Natalia Brizuela and Jodi Roberts, examines the ideas and work of seventy artists from Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and the United States. With text by nine contributors, this catalog accompanies the exhibition developed by the Cantor Center at Stanford University, on view from February 7 to April 30, 2018.

Organized by a variety of themes including “News,” “Imprints,” “Performance,” and “Data,” the authors and essayists look at how photography in the Americas has been viewed and used in the past and provide an authentic approach to seeing and thinking about the works by the artists included. In this, the organizers probe the wide variety of approaches to photography, both as an art form and as a means of communication.

Seeking to highlight artworks and artists not usually included in exhibitions, this book provides information and context via the history of events, ideas traversed by the artists, as well as cultural, political, and other changes that have occurred in the recent history of the Americas. These include the development of Brasilia and some of the consequences of its construction, as well as events in other countries that had strong implications for their peoples.

The writers expound on the sections of the exhibition as well as provide essays on individual artists, furthering highlighting and elucidating the work they are doing. Diana Ruiz’s essay “Tracing Disfiguration: Teresa Margolles’s Papeles,” for example, provides an exploration in “a photographic sense of evidentiary imaging” and pushes the definition of photography. In this work, Margolles is “mobilizing abstraction as a strategy of ethical political action” while responding to the historic methods employed by photography and governments in recording human beings. This in-depth exploration of her abstract work provides insights that would be difficult to garner from viewing the work alone.

A well-organized book with 140 plates in addition to hundreds of figures, the reader will be treated to a plethora of imagery not seen frequently. An extensive bibliography of the artists represented adds to the scholarly strength of this publication, but the text is lacking a checklist of the exhibition. In addition, the reader would have greater insight to the works included had more information on individual pieces been provided.

This book is highly recommended for students of the history of photography and the history of the Americas. This book is also recommended for libraries in colleges and universities that teach art history at the undergraduate level.