The 3rd Annual Sandra Whitehead Memorial Lecture
April 5 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pmFree
“PICTURING PUERTO RICO UNDER THE AMERICAN FLAG: THE DOCUMENTARY VISION OF EDWIN AND LOUISE ROSSKAM”
BY LAURA KATZMAN, PH.D., PROFESSOR OF ART HISTORY AT JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY
This talk examines an important yet neglected chapter in the history of 20th-century documentary practice in the United States. It focuses on a post-World War II photographic project set up by the Office of Information for Puerto Rico – an island government agency led by progressive norteamericanos, Edwin and Louise Rosskam. The Rosskams transported a New Deal idiom of recording social and economic conditions in American states to an impoverished U.S. territory that had been a Spanish colony for 400 years before America’s seizure of the island in the Spanish-American War. Informed by the now-legendary Farm Security Administration photographic project, the photographers documented Puerto Rico’s monumental shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy at a watershed moment in its history, when the increasingly powerful Popular Democratic Party sought both political autonomy and economic safeguards from the United States. How the artists created and disseminated a visual language that engaged the complexities of the island nation, including its colonial legacy in the context of U.S. imperial ambition, and how they negotiated their shifting roles in a fraught political landscape, are issues central to this investigation.
Laura Katzman is Professor of Art History at James Madison University. She recently served as the 2018-2019 Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. From 1995 to 2007, she was Associate Professor of Art and Director of Museum Studies at Randolph College (formerly Randolph-Macon Woman’s College), where she curated numerous exhibitions and helped to build the 20th-century American art collection housed at the Maier Museum, even securing multiple important gifts of Ben Shahn’s work. Dr. Katzman has received prestigious research fellowships from the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Center for Advanced Study of the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Andrew Mellon Foundation; the Henry Luce Foundation; and the J. William Fulbright Foundation. She is the principal author of Re-viewing Documentary: The Photographic Life of Louise Rosskam (Penn State University Press, second ed., 2014) and co-author of the award-winning Ben Shahn’s New York: The Photography of Modern Times (Yale University Press, 2000). Both books accompanied major travelling exhibitions that she co-curated for the American University Museum and the Harvard Art Museums, respectively. Her current research examines a documentary photography project created in the unincorporated U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in the 1940s.
The Sandra S. Whitehead Memorial Lecture series was established and supported by the Honorable Paul Whitehead, Jr. in memory of his wife, to highlight works from the Collection. Image: Louise Rosskam, “Making dolls in the Manual Industries Division of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company. Near Isla Verde, May 1947,” gelatin silver print. Collection of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, City University of New York.