The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice


Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 143 color illustrations Published: February 2015

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Caribbean Studies

In Jamaican dancehalls competition for the video camera's light is stiff, so much so that dancers sometimes bleach their skin to enhance their visibility. In the Bahamas, tuxedoed students roll into prom in tricked-out sedans, staging grand red-carpet entrances that are designed to ensure they are seen being photographed. Throughout the United States and Jamaica friends pose in front of hand-painted backgrounds of Tupac, flashy cars, or brand-name products popularized in hip-hop culture in countless makeshift roadside photography studios. And visual artists such as Kehinde Wiley remix the aesthetic of Western artists with hip-hop culture in their portraiture. In Shine, Krista Thompson examines these and other photographic practices in the Caribbean and United States, arguing that performing for the camera is more important than the final image itself. For the members of these African diasporic communities, seeking out the camera's light—whether from a cell phone, Polaroid, or video camera—provides a means with which to represent themselves in the public sphere. The resulting images, Thompson argues, become their own forms of memory, modernity, value, and social status that allow for cultural formation within and between African diasporic communities.


"Thompson’s study of light is nuanced and generative. . . . the structure of each section encourages the reader to embrace a protean reading practice, one that resists firmly embracing a single understanding of light, and of its affects and effects. The result is a powerful project that stands to impact multiple fields, while at the same time challenging how we see and understand black visual practices. In the end, Shine succeeds in reconstituting the very terms of photography and visual technology and their role in the diaspora."  — Autumn Marie Womack, SX Salon

"Shine provides important illumination; it shows that nonelite culture holds up to serious academic scrutiny. Particularly given their reach and popularity, the practices Thompson brings to light cannot go overlooked and unanalyzed." — John A. Tyson, CAA Reviews

"Ultimately, Shine is a useful application of tools from the field of art history to popular culture and presentation of self in the technological age.... Cultural anthropologists, sociologists specializing in cultural aspects of race and ethnicity, and scholars of media would find this text a valuable read."
  — Deinya Phenix, Visual Studies

"Shine, by Krista Thompson, presents a compelling investigation into the transnational aesthetics of hip-hop, bridging distinct visual practices, artistic forms, and modes of visibility in the African diaspora. Situating her work within art history, Thompson provides rich, multisited ethnographic research that spans the United States, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, allowing her to interrogate the intersecting cultures, histories, and media flows of the geopolitical region known as the circum-Caribbean. From street photography in New York to Jamaican dancehall videos, Thompson brings into dialogue disparate visual and embodied practices to provide a thought-provoking study on the mediation of the African diaspora in the circum-Caribbean." — Eryn Snyder Berger, American Anthropologist

"Krista Thompson's examination of black popular imagery and contemporary art practice is fresh, sophisticated, and greatly needed. I can't think of another body of work that successfully bridges the aesthetics of Hip Hop with recent works of art."
— Richard J. Powell, author of Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture

"Shine is an imaginative, creative and groundbreaking work. A very important and compelling text, it will exert an enormous influence not only on African and African diaspora art history but Black Atlantic studies as well." — Steven Nelson, author of From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture in and out of Africa


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Krista Thompson is Weinberg College Board of Visitors Professor and Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at Northwestern University. She is the author of An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction. Of Shine, Bling, and Bixels 1

1. "Keep It Real": Street Photography, Public Visibility, and Afro-Modernity 47

2. Video Light: Dancehall and the Aesthetics of Spectacular Un-visibility in Jamaica 112

3. Shine, Shimmer, and Splendor: African Diasporic Aesthetics and the Art of Being Seen in the Bahamas 169

4. The Sound of Light: Reflections on Art History in the Visual Culture of Hip-Hop 215

Notes 271

Bibliography 317

Index 335
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2016 Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Book Prize, presented by the Caribbean Studies Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5807-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5794-0
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