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Home » News » Darwin's Photobook: Science or Melodrama?

Darwin's Photobook: Science or Melodrama?

Published September 1, 2012

Tuesday, October 9th in FAB 249 at 7:00 PM, Thomas Southwall will explore the photographs made for Darwin by Oscar Rejlander, one of the leading  photographic artists in Victorian England, and why Darwin’s photobook remains controversial and undervalued as a work of science and photography even today.

Charles Darwin’s use of photography to illustrate his ground-breaking Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (published 1871) was an innovative use of the new medium as a tool of scientific and anthropologic research and documentation. But his seminal study also demonstrated a misunderstanding and misuse of photographs as documents that confuses the difference between illustration and evidence, a problem that continues to plague our culture’s use and reading of photographs.

Thomas Southall has served as professor of Art History at the University of Kansas, and curator of photography at the Spencer Museum of Art/KU; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida. His research has focused on the history of popular visual communication–not just art masterpieces–as demonstrated by his exhibitions and publications such as Diane Arbus: Magazine Work and Of Time and Place: Walker Evans and William Christenberry. After recently retiring from the Harn Museum, he is currently teaching a class in the UF Honors program on Photobooks that changed how we see the world.