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The Illuminating Mind in American Photography:


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The Illuminating Mind looks at the ideas, images and lives of four major twentieth century American photographers: Alfred Stieglitz [1864-1946], Paul Strand [1890-1976], Edward Weston [1886-1958] and Ansel Adams [1902-1984]. Largely because of their efforts, Americans came to accept photography as a fine art. This book examines the lives of these four photographers within the context of their times, sketching not only their contributions to American modernism, but also their struggles with epistemological and representational questions that echoed throughout American culture. They were all interested in the relationships between the artist and his subject, the knower and the known, the mind and its objects. For them, photography was not passive transcription of the outer world; instead, it is an exploratory process in which the artist interogates and probes that world. Thus they regarded photography as a creative art in which the mind illuminates its subjects, and they believed that a photograph is constituted as much by the artist's contributions as by the subject's trace. Drawing upon rarely used archival manuscripts and forgotten publication, The Illuminating Mind uses a biographical perspective to reveal these artists' unrecognized psychological intricacies, as well as the interrelationships of their creative lives and expressive themes.

David Peeler is in the Department of History, United States Naval Academy.


Peeler is a fine writer, one who knows how to balance analysis with anecdote. Readers end up knowing the men and their work. . . Peeler pays homage to each photographer's great accomplishments and reveals the essence of their art. CHOICE

Peeler's work deserves a place alongside the best historical studies in photography. He balances substantial archival research with thought-provoking image analysis, and he does it all without drowning us in a sea of jargon. JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY

The Illuminating Mind is an impressive study. . . that other scholars will find tempting to cite and draw from in the future. HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY [Vol 27 No 1 Spring 2003]


First Published: 15 May 2001
13 Digit ISBN: 9781580460590
78 black and white illustrations
Pages: 390
Size: 10 x 7
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: University of Rochester Press
BIC Class: AG

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction: Four Lives and the Illuminating Mind
  • 2  (Alfred Stieglitz) Photography Calling
  • 3  (Alfred Stieglitz) Modern Dawn
  • 4  (Alfred Stieglitz) Master Days
  • 5  (Alfred Stieglitz) Rhinoceros
  • 6  (Paul Strand) Early Years
  • 7  (Paul Strand) Materialism
  • 8  (Paul Strand) Narrative's Lure
  • 9  (Paul Strand) Never Despair
  • 10  (Edward Weston) Gestating Modernist
  • 11  (Edward Weston) Touching the Mexican Earth
  • 12  (Edward Weston) Scrutiny: Appetite, Subject, and the Mind
  • 13  (Edward Weston) Epic Reach: The Years of Travel
  • 14  (Edward Weston) Life and Art: Endings
  • 15  (Ansel Adams) Hard Rock Transcendentalist
  • 16  (Ansel Adams) Art Therapy
  • 17  (Ansel Adams) Nations' Nature
  • 18  (Ansel Adams) Posthumous Existence
  • 19  Conclusion: Perpetual Elation