Shawn Michelle Smith 1.jpg

Shawn Michelle Smith studies the history and theory of photography, and race and gender in visual culture. She is the author of At the Edge of Sight: Photography and the Unseen (Duke 2013), which won the 2014 Lawrence W. Levine Award for best book in American cultural history from the Organization of American Historians and the 2014 Jean Goldman Book Prize from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her other books are Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture (Duke 2004), and American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture (Princeton 1999). She has guest edited a special issue of the journal MELUS on visual culture and race (2014), co-edited with Maurice Wallace Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity (Duke 2012), and co-authored with Dora Apel, Lynching Photographs (California 2007). She currently serves on the editorial boards of Photography & Culture and ELN: English Language Notes.  and in the past she has served on the editorial boards of American Literature and Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. She has published essays in several edited collections and articles in the Journal of Visual CultureAmerican ArtAfrican American ReviewNka: Journal of Contemporary African ArtYale Journal of Criticism, and Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, among others. She has been awarded fellowships from several institutions, including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Smith is also a visual artist and her photo-based work has been exhibited in art galleries and university museums across the country.

2018 Visual Culture Symposium Featured Keynote Speaker 

Shawn Michelle Smith (School of the Art Institute of Chicago)  - "Photographic Remains: Sally Mann at Antietam" 

Wayne State University Student Center

Room 285

5:00 - 6:15


My work is about photography; what it is, what it means, what it does. I explore the history and theory of photography in a number of different ways, as an artist, a writer, and an educator. All of my projects begin with looking closely at photographic images. In my art practice, I work primarily with ‘found’ photographs, both personal and historical, and I am especially interested in that most common of photographic forms, the family snapshot. I enlarge and manipulate details, calling attention to the wealth of visual information photographs record, and then recombine those details in new combinations that highlight the malleable nature of photographic meaning.

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