TABLE OF CONTENTS

THE EXTRAVAGANT DEPRESSION: JOHN GUTMANN’S PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE THIRTIES

MEMORY, SAYS THE DICTIONARY, is “the mental capacity or faculty of retaining and reviving impressions or of recalling or recognizing previous experiences.” To aid memory, an aggregate of photographs can hold up to view images not only of separate people, now gone, but of whole cultural periods. Receding into history, a culture—the sum of the arrangements by which a society manifests itself—leaves behind artifacts such as words, objects, and images, which survive in a progressively alienated and disorderly state. What lives on in human memory of cultures is a composite of ideas which such remnants have generated. There have been few studies of the ways photographs enter into that composite and predispose memory with stereotypes of their own.

Let’s consider, for example, two eras, Weimar Germany and Depression America. If all evidence of them had vanished except images celebrated by photo

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