by Kaja Silverman. Stanford University Press, February 2015. 208 p. ill. ISBN 9780804793995 (pbk.), $21.95; ISBN 9780804793995 (cl.), $65.00.
Reviewed July 2015
Photography is in constant motion, and in Kaja Silverman's fascinating new book, The Miracle of Analogy, or, The History of Photography, Part I, the author meditates on this concept as the basis for a new way to think about photography's chemical processes, photographic objects, the perception and analysis of photographs, and theories about its history. Silverman is currently a Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania and is known for her work about film and photographic theory. This book is recommended for any academic or museum library with patrons studying these fields.
The primary audiences for this book are graduate students and other scholars interested in nineteenth-century photography. The initial chapters summarize early photographic history and theories; providing comfortable entry points for newer scholars interested in more rigorous study. Throughout, this book supplements popular photographic history texts by mixing history with Silverman's own theories: How is William Henry Fox Talbot's uncertainty about the value of finished photographic positive versus negative images related to the idea that all photos are analogous with each other or the world we live in? By tracing change via an image created by Nicéphore Niépce in approximately 1826, through iterations of the same image created as recently as 2009, what is the significance of a single image changing for reasons ranging from chemical reactions to artistic reinterpretations?
Silverman's writing style in the fifth chapter takes a more theoretical approach as she unpacks novels by and a film adaptation of Marcel Proust's work; however, while the theories discussed here complement those in the rest of the book, this chapter seems somewhat out of place. The final chapter incorporates a discussion of Walter Benjamin's writing about photography, and Silverman rewards readers with the denouement of the theoretical concepts advocated for throughout the book. Silverman's writing in the final pages about artist John Dugdale's work is as beautiful as it is complex and engaging.
The Miracle of Analogy is richly illustrated: ninety-five quality grayscale images are printed with the text, and twenty-four are also reproduced as glossy, color plates. This volume features a lengthy bibliography and index. The book is published in both hardcover and softcover editions. A softcover edition was reviewed; it is perfect bound, but sturdy.
This well-constructed book includes uniquely interconnected content, and it dynamically presents new photographic theories. The Miracle of Analogy is a thought-provoking read and a must have for any collection serving photography scholars.