Settler colonial narrative: Jordan Reznick, Settler Modernism: Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage and the Vicissitudes of Whiteness, 1890-1930, PhD dissertation, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2020


Abstract: Settler Modernism traces how Stieglitz’s iconic photograph, Te Steerage (1907) came to be known as the frst modernist American photograph and how, at each stage of its trajectory into the modernist canon, it was interpreted through settler colonial narratives that served to naturalize whites’ ongoing presence on occupied territories in the twentieth century. Tough studies of settler visual cultures typically concentrate on events surrounding acts of colonization, I demonstrate that American modernist photography was continuous with the nineteenth-century history of photography for which settler colonialism was a structural and discursive force that framed photographic vision. I bring Te Steerage into conversation with Stieglitz’s photographs of working-class people, Manhattan, and clouds, as well as with artworks by Cézanne, Anne Brigman, Albert Bierstadt, Tomas Cole, and others. By interrogating how the camera’s capacity to distort perceptions of time and land clinched whites’ amnesia regarding the nation’s founding violence, I show how photographs encouraged settlers to imagine themselves as the ancient inhabitants of the continent. I also thread Indigenous histories, philosophies, and visual cultures throughout the text, undermining settler logic with perspectives that make apparent its impracticability. Trough concentrated examination of Te Steerage’s history, I shed light on how settler colonialism was not only central to the emergence of American modernism, but also to emergent conceptions of white racial identity that followed the closing of the frontier.

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