Carson McCullers, Style Icon

This post was originally published, in slightly different form, on the Harry Ransom Center's blog, Cultural CompassMcCullers Cecil Beaton

Photo of Carson McCullers by Cecil Beaton, via Cultural Compass

It might seem funny that an author’s fashion sense would even be a topic of discussion. What does it matter what a writer wears, so long as she writes? And yet, clothes, accessories, and everyday objects give us tangible, direct links to the past and to the people who wore them, used them, and kept them in their homes.

Texans as Ethnographic Subjects

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Recently one of my students came to class carrying a large mass of ribbons. With a central bow the size of a large sunflower, and gold and white strands trailing for several feet, it resembled a festive octopus. “I’m making fonts for my design class out of mums,” she explained, as she pulled out a chair for her artwork. The class then conferred the knowledge of the Texas tradition that is mum giving.

A Very Viz-y Halloween: The Horror of the Female Body

Samara from The Ring sitting in a psychiatric ward, hooked up to wires

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At least once a year, my fevered, candy-addle, jumped-up-on-Halloween brain grapples with the compelling notion that the horror genre somehow contains the key to unlock some delightful secrets about our cultural, if not our human, condition. The genre fascinates because its appeal rests on its ability to draw forth all of the emotional and physiological reaction we, as a species, have been conditioned to be very, very wary of. I can understand why romantic comedies command so much cultural popularity, but horror movies? Revulsion, repulsion, terror, horror, disgust...the viewer is bombarded with stimuli that are designed to make you feel as though you should flee as quickly as you possibly can, and yet, riveted we sit, consuming horror with more fervor and delight than we consume popcorn. So how does this genre relate to gender?

Sifting through the "Spaceship Junkyard"

Bendiksen Russia 2000

Jonas Bendikson RUSSIA. Altai Territory. 2000. Image via Harry Ransom Center Exhibitions page.

Jonas Bendikson's photo, used in many of the Harry Ransom Center's promotional materials for their current exhibit "Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos in the Digital Age," caught my attention even before visiting the galleries. Before seeing it in person, the image reminded me, strange as it is to say, of the 1939 Technicolor version of The Wizard of Oz.

On Being an Observer of Elliott Erwitt's "Beauty Knows No Pain" (1971)

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The Harry Ransom Center’s current exhibit “Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age” poses interesting questions about the ambiguity of the photographic medium in our present time, while simultaneously calling into question the status of the photographer as objective.

Jim Goldberg's Rich and Poor: The Impoverished Viewer

black and white photo of man, woman, and child. Handwritten text beneath photo says when I look at this picture I feel alone. It makes me want to reach out to Patty and make our relationship work. Cowboy Stanley. 

Image Credit: Magnum Photos



Jim Goldberg's Rich and Poor features photographs of the impoverished tenants of a San Fransisco hotel and of an affluent group of select individuals, also shown in their homes. As the most obvious dimension of the title suggests, the photos serve as a comparative essay on class and the disparity of wealth in America. Goldberg compiled this collection through the late 70s and early 80s and it was originally published by Random House in 1985. The Harry Ransom Center's current exhibit, Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age (September 10, 2013 – January 5, 2014), includes several images from Rich and Poor.


Commercial and Cooperative Subjectivities: Does an Independent Lens See Differently?

A photographic portrait of Robert Capa

Image Credit: Hudson Valley Almanac

"If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."--Robert Capa, founding member of Magnum.  d. 1954, landmine accident


Currently on exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center is a carefully curated selection of Magnum photos, drawing from the organization’s archive housed at the Center.  Magnum, an elite professional photographic cooperative, brings together some of the world’s premiere photographers in a collaboration resistant to the commercial demands of photojournalism.   This week on viz., we’ll feature the exhibit and explore issues central to visual argumentation and mass media.  This post will explore what possibilities arise when photographers become their own producers and distributors—what influence do the conditions of production have on the genre of photojournalism itself?


"Boy" Cuts: Part II

American Apparel flannel shirts women's vs. men's

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In my last post, I asked a pretty basic question: “why is it that most women’s clothing is designed to either a) show off or b) hide the body, while most men’s clothing is designed to comfortably fit the body?” When I say designed, I want to emphasize that I’m looking at the shape and cut of the fabric, first and foremost, which determine how a garment fits. Let me give a few examples.

Some days, you wake up and all you want is to wear a goddamn white t-shirt. For me, it’s barely a step up from just-not-even-gonna-get-dressed-today,-hope-that’s-cool. It’s also a fairly classic, chic, minimalist choice if you can pull it off. But I think it’s particularly hard to find that just right white t-shirt. My current option isn’t exactly cutting it. It’s a v-neck from (no surprise here) American Apparel, a brand notorious for it’s staunch policies on labor justice and equally staunch ad strategy of degrading women. You know this shirt was designed for a woman because:

Tragicomedy and the Aesthetics of a Finale

[Warning: This post contains spoilers]

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In my last post I defined “Breaking Bad” as a tragicomedy. Though the series was suspenseful, it maintained its comedic touch through visual elements. Successful tragicomedies are ones which constantly maintain their equilibrium: neither becoming too humorous, nor too dramatic. Because of this balance, there is something to the tragicomic work that gives it a certain fullness, a sense of having lived a complete life. To this end, there are a few visual scenes from “Breaking Bad” which I would suggest are representative anecdotes; images which serve as microcosmic summations for the series at large.

The Politics of the Sexy Pose

The Amazing Spiderman comic book cover. Mary Jane sits pouting in a sexy pose on a couch

Image Credit: Comic Book Resources 


What's so amazing about Spiderman? Setting aside the superpowers and the solid-gold heart, his greatest talent appears to be marketing. On this 2009 J. Scott Campbell cover, Spidey appears in three different ways: swinging away in person from his on-again-off-again love interest, caught in an action shot on the cover of a newspaper, and staring out at the viewer from an impressive vantage point on Mary Jane's t-shirt. If we think of “amazing” in terms of “eyecatching,” which Spiderman lives up to his full hero title? From a framing standpoint, it's the front-and-center shirt version, the version showcasing Mary Jane's ample breasts. On this cover, The Amazing Spiderman, much like The Amazing Spiderman, draws focus away from the hero himself and onto an idealized female form.

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