"Aesthetics of Soft Focus: Art Photography, Masculinity and the Re-Imagining of Modernity in Late Victorian Britain, 1885-1914"
Lesko, Scott Christopher
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Aesthetics of Soft Focus examines the contested and mutually constituted discourses of masculinity and national imperial identity through the visual medium of photography in late Victorian and early Edwardian Britain. It argues that the art photography produced by members of the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring produced essential sites in which to question the dominant political and cultural paradigms of the era. This dissertation examines four primary interconnected sites of performance: the photographer, the photographic exhibition, the photographic society and most importantly the photographic image, which together reflected a broader reconfiguration of British modernity. From George Davison's pinhole landscape photograph, "An Old Farmstead" to Shapoor N. Bhedwar's "Naver Series" (1892) "Fakir" (1893) and "Tyag or the Renunciations Series" (1896), photography and its images engaged Victorian audiences in a debate over the nature and dangers of contemporary sexuality, empire and Britain's global standing. In the spirit of recent historical inquiries into the relationship of "nation" and "empire" and the constitution of the modern British citizen, this dissertation demonstrates how the visual medium of photography held the potential for exploring the complex and ambiguous nature of "Englishness", "masculinity" and "modernity," whether through the form of a rural English landscape or in the `bodyscape' of the human figure as represented in new art photographic practices of nineteenth century portraiture.