CAROL QUIRKE. Eyes on Labor: News Photography and America's Working Class.by C. A. Finnegan

The American Historical Review

About

Year
2013
DOI
10.1093/ahr/118.4.1202
Subject
Archaeology / History / Museology

Text

ing, space, equipment, and career opportunities; the detailed evidence and statistics she provides in the case of Title IX is especially discouraging. The chapter detailing arguments over the significance of menstrual problems among female athletes from the 1940s through 2005 is compelling, as she allows us to see— and to hear—the nuanced arguments and proposals physical educators made as they juggled their institutional demands, their concerns for women’s health, and their demands for equity in the gym and the workplace, drawing from scientific discourse, feminist political strategies, and their own training as professional educators.

This book will be important to scholars within the history of women, sports, education, and U.S. culture.

It will be less useful to non-specialists, however, as the author makes only cursory mention of the key cultural, political, and social shifts that would allow one to place this history within a larger context. Similarly, the book leaves it up to the reader to make connections with other scholarly conversations; Verbrugge’s history demonstrates the extent of homophobia and heterosexist bias within the field, for instance, but she does not address other scholars’ work suggesting that all-female institutions were significant sites for the development of lesbian communities and queer identities. It is unclear whether her sources support or challenge this scholarship. Similarly, although she discusses the use of scientific discourse, she is surprisingly silent on the ideological content of physical education courses, particularly the ways that the curricula attempted to shape girls’ and women’s bodies for citizenship. More explicit connections to scholars within disability studies, fat studies, and sexuality studies would have strengthened her book and made it accessible and meaningful to a wider range of readers. More attention to this scholarship might also have tempered her conclusion that “exercise and sports are especially empowering for girls and women, both physically and personally.”

AMY ERDMAN FARRELL

Dickinson College

CAROL QUIRKE. Eyes on Labor: News Photography and

America’s Working Class. New York: Oxford University

Press. 2012. Pp. xi, 358. $29.95.

Photography historians have had surprisingly little to say about images of labor in U.S. history, and labor historians for the most part have not treated photographs as rhetorical texts worthy of engaged interpretation.

Carol Quirke’s Eyes on Labor fills these gaps by analyzing how early twentieth-century news photographs not only chronicled but also constituted “workers’ revolution in the nation’s economic, political, and cultural landscape” (p. 10). By examining how the American worker was represented across the period’s print culture, Quirke offers a rich picture of American labor in the early twentieth century and highlights the role that mass media played in circulating that picture.

Quirke’s critical approach to reading labor photographs combines attention to photographic production with detailed studies of images’ composition. But it is her sustained engagement with the various contexts of photographs’ reproduction that distinguishes Quirke’s study. For Quirke, labor photographs must be studied in the contexts in which they were reproduced and circulated, alongside captions and other texts published with them, and within the broader sociopolitical landscape in which they participated. While such an approach is not new, it is put to excellent use in a study that perceptively reads photographs in contexts as different from one another as Life magazine, the house organs of labor unions, Congressional hearings, and the photographic activities of union members themselves.

While all of the book’s case studies are strong, two merit specific elaboration here. In chapter three,

Quirke examines photographs of the Hershey Chocolate sit-down strike of 1937. Quirke’s chapter sets the scene for her analysis of strike imagery by first exploring the visual narrative of Hershey as “workingman’s Utopia” (p. 108). Reading Hershey’s promotional materials as visual constructions of an idealized, “classless world” from which workers themselves were largely missing,

Quirke shows how the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) used this narrative as the basis for its public relations campaign on behalf of Hershey (p. 120). Quirke reads photographs, layouts, and text from the NAM pamphlet, “Civil War in Hersheytown,” for how they constructed union workers as both an organized communist threat and at the same time as an anarchist, adolescent mob. Quirke’s analysis then shows how newspapers and magazines like Time and Life essentially adopted the NAM’s representations of the utopian landscape of Hershey and the dangerousness of the strikers. Quirke’s study of Hershey highlights the constitutive power of photography, because the NAM did not so much seek to break strikers as “to create the very public that rejected union tactics” (p. 148).

A second noteworthy case study is chapter four’s analysis of the complex interpretive controversy surrounding images of the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre in Chicago. Police beat and opened fire on unionists and sympathizers who attempted to march to Republic

Steel to establish a mass picket; ten people died, dozens more were wounded, and nearly all of those shot were shot in the back (p. 154). Newspapers quickly circulated images of the event, in stories that described “strikers as a ‘riotous mob’ ” (p. 150). Quirke’s reading of these reports shows how newspapers constructed elaborate photographic narratives, in some cases going as far as to label parts of the pictures in order to highlight an anti-union interpretation of events. In time, however, the emergence of raw newsreel footage shot by Paramount (which had itself distributed an edited version conforming to the view that the strikers were at fault) transformed public discussion of the event, inviting new interpretation of the images and a Congressional investigation. The key question of the role of the image as evidence takes center stage as Quirke examines how labor actively worked to challenge the news media’s ini1202 Reviews of Books