Tanya Sheehan is Assistant Professor of American Art and Visual Culture in the Art History Department at Rutgers University, where she teaches courses on art and science, race and representation, and the history of photography. Her forthcoming book, Doctor Photo: The Medicine of Photography in American Culture (Penn State University Press), explores the relationship between studio portrait photography and medical discourse in the nineteenth century. She has also published essays on commercial photography and African-American visual culture.
The research Dr. Sheehan will undertake at the Beinecke Library concerns early photographic humor, a genre that includes satirical writings on and graphic illustrations of the practice of photography as well as staged studio portraits and comic stereoviews. The book project this research will support is the first critical study to take photographic humor seriously, not only as a popular form of entertainment but as highly complex social commentary. It specifically focuses on the ways in which photographic humor expressed widespread yet evolving anxieties about race in America, from the eve of the US Civil War to the Progressive Era. Through the comic interplay of word and image, Sheehan argues, humorists articulated popular desires for and apprehensions about the new medium of photography at the same time that they posed important questions about what would come of fully integrating blacks into the American social body.