Photography and What It Means to Be Anti-Racist


Photography is often considered “objective”—a technology with the ability to capture people, things and places as they were during one moment in time. The art form has a long history of depicting race powerfully in America, both in disproving difference across racial divides and in evoking emotion and depicting the gravity of tragedy.  For The Nation, Matthew McKnight puts two books of photography—John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste Marie-Bernier’s Picturing Frederick Douglass and James Allen’s Without Sanctuary—in conversation with Karen and Barbara Fields’s Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life. McKnight argues that attempts to defeat racism on its own intellectual terrain are ineffective. If race is a socially constructed fiction, then building an analysis off any sort of foundation that considers it “objective” reinforces rather than remedies racism.

Sam Metz is a writer living in Morocco on a Fulbright. His reporting and criticism has appeared or is forthcoming in The Nation, Public Books, Lit Hub and Muftah. He formerly worked on the editorial team at The Nation. More from this author →