"This book makes a major contribution to the scholarship on both lynching and the artistic representation of racism in the United States. It will undoubtedly be a foundational work for subsequent research by historians and art historians alike."—W. Fitzhugh Brundage, author of Under Sentence of Death and Lynching in the New South
"In concise and compelling language, Dora Apel traces the origins and histories of images of lynching in order to foreground their role in both normalizing and challenging particular concepts of racial and national identity. She forces us to look at scenes most would prefer to ignore, and exposes the horror and logic of torture. At a time when grotesque deaths are increasingly framed as ‘entertainment’ by today’s news media, Apel’s book is a sober reminder of the political expediency and personal pain behind such graphic displays."—Frances K. Pohl, author of Framing America: A Social History of American Art
Outside of the classroom and scholarly publications, lynching has long been a taboo subject. Nice people, it is felt, do not talk about it, and they certainly do not look at images representing the atrocity.
In Imagery of Lynching, Dora Apel contests this adopted stance of ignorance. Through a careful and compelling analysis of over one hundred representations of lynching, she shows how the visual documentation of such crimes can be a central vehicle for the construction and reinforcement of racial hierarchies. She examines how lynching was often orchestrated explicitly for the camera, how these images circulated on postcards, but also how they eventually were appropriated by antilynching forces and artists from the 1930s to the present. She further investigates the role that gender played in these visual representations, how photographs were used to construct ideologies of "whiteness" and "blackness," and how interracial desire became part of the imagery.
Offering the fullest and most systematic discussion of the depiction of lynching in diverse visual forms, this book addresses questions about race, class, gender, and dissent in the shaping of American society. Although we may want to avert our gaze, Apel holds it with her sophisticated interpretations of traumatic images and the uses to which they have been put.