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Through the Lens
A photographers family portrait of America.
By Wendy Steiner
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark FA62 ASC64
New York: Aperture, 1999.
152 pp., $50.00.
With a scholarship to the
Annenberg School for Communication in the early 1960s, Mary Ellen Mark, a
Philadelphian, began her career in photography. Many books and photo credits
later, she returned to Penn in 1994 to receive an honorary doctor of fine
arts degree. Voted by the readers of American Photo the most
influential woman photographer of all timea somewhat wince-inducing
accoladeMark has received a host of major fellowships and awards and
earned the admiration of the likes of Maya Angelou and Louis Malle. Her work
might be described as close observation from a slant: a tense conflict in
vantage between sympathetic attention and critical distance.
this first collection of her images of the United States, American Odyssey,
however, Mark presents her work quite differently. Indeed, she sounds like
a latter-day Edward Steichen glorifying the family of man. Mark
pictures herself journeying forth to marvel at the rituals, customs,
and lives of isolated groups, only to find them just like the folks
back home. In minor ways we differ,/ in major were the same,
writes Maja Angelou in a poetic dedication to the volume called Human
Family. Or in Marks own words, I always try to find the
quirkiness in my subjects, to go beyond clich╚s and discover the common human
element that connects people all over the world. Mark shows people through
their foibles, assuming for some reason that an experience with quirkiness
will provoke in us feelings of solidarity.
This stance gives Marks work an ethnographic quality
as old as photography itself. To capture the image, the pre-digital
photographer first had to leave home to find it, and so the history of photography
is in part the history of encountering the unfamiliar, the exotic and the
marvelous. In this way it is linked to travel literature and anthropology
and the uneasy politics of exploration and colonialism. Mark is caught in
this unease. A cross between Walker Evans and Diane Arbus, she presents an
array of types by now all too familiar in serious photography: the aged, ill,
obese, poor, rural, vulgar, insane, self-deceived, deviant, abject. Her titles
locate her subjects in time and place, but many of the images look as if they
could have been shot in sepia, idealized and universalized in all their grotesquery.
In this American ethnography, the artist is always a crucial
factor. We cannot ignore the meaning of the artists being therehistorically,
ethically, emotionallywhen we deal with photography, for the viewer
is put in the same relation to the scene: standing, as it were, in the photographers
shoes. Words like voyeuristic and exploitative and
sentimental describe not only the photographers stance but
the viewers, and sometimes in American Odyssey Marks stances
are difficult to inhabit.
It is not that we doubt her sincerity when she insists
on her respect for her subjects, and since many of them posed for her repeatedly
over the years, we can assume they trusted her, too. Indeed, we can often
see why. The portrait of Agnes Martin shows this venerable painter fused with
nature: her shoulders aligned with the horizon, her body tonally of
the land, her weathered head staring at us straight on, at one with
the sky. An early image of the unfortunate Tiny shows the delicate and grimly
stylish beauty of this impoverished rural teenager. Only the rigidity of her
mouth undermines this beauty, and the mouth turns into a deformity as the
years proceed. If Tiny feels half the bitterness her face expresses, these
images must serve as a welcome release.
However Mark may feel about her subjects, it is not always
clear why we should respect themthe Aryan Nations ladies posing under
their coarse hoods, the senior citizen dancing with her skirt unbuttoned to
the waist, or the water babies of the National Association to
Advance Fat Acceptance, who resemble nothing so much as the hippo-ballerinas
of Walt Disneys Fantasia. These images are mildly shocking, not
because the subjects are distasteful but because their apparent view of themselves
differs so drastically from the way we see them. Mark is surely not so naive
as to accept these self-presentations at face value nor so tolerant as to
find them all touchingly human. The dust jacket copy does not
help either, with its come-and-get-it hucksterism: In this book, for
the first time, witness Tiny at thirty. Revisit the Damm family, who no longer
live in their car, but still survive in comparably difficult circumstances.
This sounds not like a celebration of the human family but an invitation to
a freak show.
But many of the images escape this problem into an exploration
of contrast itself. Mark is clearly fascinated with pairingsof twins,
siblings, prom queens, fat boys, old ladies smoking, people and pets, Edgar
Bergen and his dummy. Alice Martin is all the more striking for appearing
starkly on her own; an aged Henry Miller is paired with his bathing-suited
Twinka on the facing page. In Breann Benedict, Government flood housing,
Grand Forks, North Dakota, 1997, we see two rows of identical prefabricated
houses receding to the horizon behind a little girl, clean and well cared-for,
clutching her doll, their four eyes all neatly aligned, looking up or down.
The doll is missing one of her immaculate shoesthe only failed pairing
in this state of emergency.
In contrast to all the subjects who present themselves
to the camera, Mark includes some who cannot see themselves being seen. Lindsay,
a deaf and blind child, is placed in an extraordinary sun-dappled composition
with his apparently sighted sister, he reaching out to feel the world, she
content to look at the ground. In perhaps the most formal shot in the collection,
a black nurse in white uniform holds the white, masklike head of a leprosy
patient between her dark arms in a portrait of life and death.
Pairings may raise a host of issues about human difference
and sameness, but they also refer to black-and-white photography itselfa
two-dimensional echo of reality, a system of positives and negatives, an artists
slant on reality repeated in our act of viewing. It is through these correspondences
and contrasts that Mark works her photographic art. The American Odyssey
is worthwhile not because it brings us home to the common human element
but because it keeps us well occupied at sea.
Dr. Wendy Steiner is the Richard L. Fisher Professor
of English and director of the Penn Humanities Forum.
A selection of recent books
by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University community.
Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the authors and publishers.
Victorian Science and the Architecture of Display
By Carla Yanni Gr94.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. 224 pp.,
Focusing on the Oxford University Museum, the Edinburgh Museum of Science
and Art and the Natural Museum of History of London, this book reveals how
such institutions reflected varying, often contradictory, concepts of naturefrom
the handiwork of God to a resource to be exploited. Yanni, an assistant professor
of art history at Rutgers University, explains how the rise of museums accompanied
and influenced the transformation of science from a gentlemans
hobby to a paying profession. And she shows how the buildings themselves
remain invaluable guides to the Victorians ambiguous perception of the
SPARKS OF GENIUS: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of
the Worlds Most Creative People
By Robert and Mich╦le Root-Bernstein CW75.
New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. 400
This book on creative thinking demonstrates how the creative
impulse actually occurs in the mind before logic or linguistics come into
play and manifests itself via emotions, intuitions, images and physical feelings.
The resulting ideas then translate into formal systems of communication: words,
equations, pictures, music or dancebut only after they are developed
in pre-logical forms. Regardless of how these many abstract details eventually
take forminto paintings, poems, theories, formulas and so onthe
process by which ideas originate is universal to all persons with a potential
for genius, according to the authors, who have spent 10 years researching
the thought processes of dozens of accomplished men and women, from Albert
Einstein and Richard Feynman to e. e. cummings and Isabelle Allende. Using
their examples, the book goes on to explain how each of us can use the same
imaginative tools to be more creative in our daily lives. Robert is a professor
of physiology at Michigan State University and has won a MacArthur Fellowship.
Mich╦le has taught history and writing.
VOICES OF THE MATRIARCHS: Listening to the Prayers
of Early Modern Jewish Women
By Chava Weissler Gr82.
Boston: Beacon Press, 1999. 269 pp., $18.00 (paperback).
Most studies of Judaism focus on sources produced by and for learned men:
the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the Midrash, legal codes and works of medieval
philosophy, mysticism and Hasidism. All these texts were written in Hebrew,
a language which 17th- through 19th-century Jewish women were not given the
opportunity to learn. Voices of the Matriarchs, first published
in 1998 and now available in paperback, provides the first look at non-Hebrew
Jewish source materials: the vernacular womens devotional prayers called
thkhines. Weisslers book is the first to provide context for
these prayers, and to examine the religious lives of the women who spoke them.
Weissler is a professor of religious studies at Lehigh University, where she
holds the Philip and Muriel Berman Chair of Jewish Civilization.
SLAVES AND SLAVEHOLDERS IN BERMUDA, 1616-1782
By Virginia Bernhard G61.
Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1999.
304 pp., $37.50.
This book offers a new perspective on the complex relationship
between racism and slavery in the often overlooked, second-oldest English
colony in the New World. As the first blacks were brought onto the islands
not specifically for slave labor, but for their expertise as pearl divers
and cultivators of West
Indies plants, Bermudas racial history began to
unfold much differently from that of the Caribbean islands or of the North
American mainland. Slavery dictated and strained the relationships between
whites and blacks, but it differed from slavery elsewhere because of the uniquely
close master-slave relations created by Bermudas size and maritime economy.
Bernhard is professor of history at the University of
St. Thomas in Houston and the author or editor of several books, including
Hidden Histories of Women in the New South.
STATES OF DESIRE: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and the Irish
By Vicki Mahaffey, Faculty.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 276 pp., $45.00.
This book is an intimate study of the three giants in
Irish literary history: Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats and James Joyce.
In addition to constructing a narrative of Irelands political and literary
past, Mahaffey interweaves the lives and writing of the authors into a portrait
of national imagination, shaped not only by a vast cultural and mythic heritage,
but also by the hard fact of English political domination. Mahaffey, professor
of English, has written numerous articles on British and Irish modernism,
and is the author of Reauthorizing Joyce.
THE MYSTICAL MIND: Probing the Biology of Religious
By Eugene dAquili M66 G81, Faculty,
and Andrew B. Newberg M93, Faculty.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999. 240
How does the mind experience the sacred? What biological
mechanisms are involved in mystical states and trances? Is there a neurological
basis for patterns in comparative religions? Does religion have an evolutionary
function? A pair of Penn researchers explore the neurophysiology of religious
experience in this book, plotting just how the brain is involved in mystical
processes. Successive chapters investigate myth-making, ritual and liturgy,
meditation, near-death experiences and theology itself. DAquili was,
until his death in 1998, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the
School of Medicine. Newberg is a clinical assistant professor of radiology.
A BETTER WAY TO THINK ABOUT BUSINESS: How Personal
Integrity Leads to Corporate Success
By Robert C. Solomon C63.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
176 pp., $22.00.
Is business ethics a contradiction in terms? Absolutely
not, argues Solomon, the Quincy Lee Professor of Philosophy at the University
of Texas. In fact, he maintains that sound ethics is a necessary precondition
of any long-term business enterprise and that excellence in business must
exist on the foundation of values that most of us hold dear. Drawing on 20
years of experience consulting with major corporations on ethics, Solomon
clarifies the difficult ethical choices all people in business face from time
to time. He reminds readers that a corporationlike an individualis
embedded in a community. In keeping with his conviction that virtue and profit
must thrive together, Solomon examines the ways in which deficient values
actually destroy businesses, and debunks the myths that encourage unethical
PAVILION KEY: Isle of Buried Treasure
By Greg Lewbart V88.
Melbourne, Fla.: Krieger Publishing, 1999. 212
This authors second eco-mystery continues the saga
of Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Officer Hal Noble, who once
again finds himself pitted against corrupt individuals. This time, their greedy
plans could seriously affect one of the most endangered reptiles on earth,
the Kemps ridley sea turtle. This story takes Hal to Pavilion Key, which
lies at the leading edge of Floridas Ten Thousand Islands. It was a
favorite stop for Caribbean pirates in the 16th and 17th centuries, but gold
doubloons and precious stones arent the only treasures buried in its
sands. Like Lewbarts first novel, Ivory Hunters, this weaves
together a classic mystery plot with issues of natural history, ecology and
conservation. Lewbart is a
veterinary medical doctor and an associate professor of aquatic-animal medicine
at North Carolina State University.
VOLUMETRICS: Feel Full on Fewer Calories
By Barbara Rolls CW66 and Robert A. Barnett.
New York: Cliff Street Books (Harper Collins), 2000. 256
Rolls, a nutrition expert, and Barnett, a food and nutrition
writer, offer a long-term approach to dieting that allows you to eat more
while consuming the same number of calories. Their plan is based on the concept
that if you maintain the usual amount of food that you eat, yet reduce the
calories in each portion (by consuming items lower in energy density), youll
consume fewer calories overall and feel just as fulland youll
lose weight in the process. Volumetrics provides a food guide, a menu
plan adaptable for all calorie-intake levels and healthful recipes. Rolls
holds the Guthrie Chair in Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University and
has served on an advisory council of the National Institutes of Health. She
has also served on the editorial boards of several academic journals in the
fields of nutrition and obesity.
CHILD ABUSE, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND ANIMAL ABUSE:
Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention
Edited by Frank R. Ascione and Phil Arkow C69.
West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1999. 479
pp., $54.95 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).
Research has shown that the cycle of violence often begins
with violence toward animals. This book examines the relations between animal
maltreatment and human interpersonal violence, expands the scope of research
in this growing area and provides practical assessment and documentation strategies.
Ascione is a professor of psychology at Utah State University. Arkow chairs
the Latham Foundations Child and Animal Abuse Prevention Project.
SPIRITUAL MANIFESTOS: Visions for Renewed Religious
Life in America from Young Spiritual Leaders of Many Faiths
Edited by Niles Elliot Goldstein C88.
Woodstock, Vt.: Skylight Paths Publishing, 1999. 226 pp.,
Organized religion in America is changing. In this book,
young spiritual leaders spanning the spectrum of religious traditions describe
their visions for transforming faith communities and peoples lives.
Goldstein, a rabbi in Greenwich Village, is chaplain for federal law-enforcement
agencies and serves an online congregation for Microsoft as the voice behind
Ask the Rabbi. He also serves as program officer and educator
for the Jewish Life Network.
MILLIONS FOR THE DEFENSE: The Subscription Warships
By Frederick C. Leiner C80.
Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1999. 288 pp.,
The title for this book comes from a toast popular with
Americans in the late 1790s: Millions for the defense, not a cent for
tribute. Americans were incensed by demands for bribes from French diplomats
and by Frances seizures of U.S. merchant ships, and as they teetered
toward open war, were disturbed by their countrys lack of warships.
Provoked to action, private U.S. citizens decided to help build a navy. Merchants
from Newburyport, Mass., took the lead by opening a subscription to fund a
20-gun warship to be built in 90 days, and they persuaded Congress to pass
a statute that gave the government stock bearing six-percent interest.
Their example set off a chain reaction down the coast. More than a thousand
subscribers in 10 port towns pledged money and began to build nine warships
with little government oversight. Leiner, a partner in a Baltimore law firm
who has written articles about maritime and legal history, explains how the
idea of subscribing for warships started, how the ships were built and what
contributions they made. He was awarded the 1993-94 Vice Admiral Edwin P.
Hooper Prize by the Naval Historical Center to support his research.
WORCESTER IS AMERICA: The Story of the Worcester Armenians.
The Early Years
By Hagop Martin Deranian D47.
Worcester, Mass.: Bennate Publishing, 1998.
222 pp., $29.95.
Like a powerful magnet, the city of Worcester attracted Armenian immigrants
to work in its factories, establish small businesses and pursue higher education
and the professions. This account explains why Worcester became the site of
the first major Armenian settlement in America and traces the hopes and aspirations
of the early Armenian settlers, their bewilderment over the customs of the
new world and the painful process of building a community. Deranian, a native
of Worcester and a first-generation Armenian-American, lectures and writes
about the history of dentistry and the development of the Armenian-American
community. He has a private dental practice and serves on the faculty of Tufts
University School of Dental Medicine.
THE MICROSOFT EDGE: Insider Strategies for Building
By Julie Bick W90.
New York: Pocket Books, 1999. 172
How did the team at Microsoft pioneer, build and shepherd
the company through exponential growth in a constantly changing market? And
how can you apply their success to your own career? Bick, a Microsoft veteran,
goes behind the scenes at one of the worlds most prosperous companies
to learn what top managers there have found to be the keys to success. In
her second book, Bick discusses launching new products and getting the most
out of older ones; designing a Web site and doing business on the Internet;
and hiring the best people and keeping them happy. She previously wrote All
I Need to Know in Business I Learned at Microsoft.
NEW MEDIA IN THE MUSLIM WORLD: The Emerging Public
By Dale F. Eickelman and Jon W. Anderson G69.
Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University Press, 1999. 272
pp., $39.95 (cloth); $19.95 (paper).
Todays new media, from satellite television to the
Internet, and new uses of older media, such as cinema, the telephone and the
press, are dramatically reshaping politics and culture in Muslim societies.
This book considers the social organization of communication and the changing
social and political landscape in which different media operate throughout
the Middle East and beyond. Drawing on a wide variety of topics, from Egyptian
film to Bangladeshi bodice-rippers and Indonesian legal reasoning, the essays
offer new perspectives on how Muslims have adapted local and international
media to communicate independently of official governments and mainstream
religion. Eickelman is an anthropology and human relations professor at Dartmouth
College. Anderson is associate professor of anthropology at the Catholic University
of America and co-director of the Arab Information Project at Georgetown University.
CONNECTING WITH THE NEW HEALTHCARE CONSUMER:
Defining Your Strategy
Edited by David B. Nash WG86, Mary Pat Manfredi,
Barbara Bozarth and Susan Howell.
Burr Ridge, Ill.: McGraw Hill Healthcare Education Group,
2000. 500 pp., $60.00.
Consumers are positioned more than ever to assume
proactive, decision-making roles in healthcare. They are taking more control,
as evidenced by self-care, advances in the use of information technology and
the changing dynamic of the patient-provider relationship. This book helps
readers understand how the consumer evolution has affected various segments
of the healthcare industry and assists them in developing their own consumer-focused
strategies. Nash is founding director of the Office of Health Policy and Clinical
Outcomes at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and associate professor of
medicine at Jefferson Medical College.
THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM IN THE SOVIET UNION
By William E. Watson G86 Gr90.
Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. 200
narrative description, analytical essays, biographical profiles and the text
of key primary documents, Watson examines the reasons for the decline and
fall of the Soviet Union and its ruling Communist Party in 1991. The author
is assistant professor of history at Immaculata College.
SMALL PARTICLES TECHNOLOGY
By Jan-Erik Otterstedt and Dale A. Brandreth ChE53
New York: Plenum Publishing Co., 1999. 524
particles are ubiquitous throughout modern technology in thousands of different
products and processes where they function as adsorbents, catalysts, fillers,
pigments, thickening agents, surface modifiers and coatings. This book covers
the physical and chemical fundamentals of small particles as well as their
manufacture and use. Brandreth is an adjunct professor of chemical engineering
at Widener University.
CUTTING THE GORDIAN KNOT:
Understanding Investing in Stocks, Bonds, and Mutual Funds
By A. A. Neese WG72
Baltimore: Noble House, 1999. 191 pp., $21.95.
If you have ever considered investing money in stocks, bonds
or mutual funds but felt overwhelmed and confused about where to start, Neese
has written a guide to take you through a survey of current investment strategies
and practices, drawing on his experience as a long-term investor and consultant.
Neese serves on the board of directors and finance committee of The Bridge,
a residential shelter for abused teens in Atlanta, and on the Board of Directors
of the Beloit Foundation in Beloit, Wisc.
reviews | March/April Contents | Gazette
1999 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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