The idea for this book was hatched at a conference on “The Madness of Pho-
tography” in Savannah, Georgia, in 2011. During conversation in between
panels we began to ask ourselves why the discourse of psychoanalysis, which
had been so influential for film, had by and large failed to permeate the field
of photography studies. The roving conversation eventually turned into more
pointed questions: Why had the field so favored the Marxist aspects of Wal-
ter Benjamin’s work on photography while ignoring its associations with
Freud? Could Benjamin’s germinative concept—the “optical unconscious”—
be turned into a more potent analytic tool for exploring the psychological di-
mensions of the medium? The questions felt urgent enough that by the close
of the conference we were committed to investigating further. The first foray
consisted of a symposium that was graciously hosted by the Toronto Photog-
raphy Seminar at the University of Toronto in 2013. Many of the chapters in this
book were discussed and developed during this workshop and we would like
to express our gratitude to the presenters and attendees—and especially the
members of the Toronto Photography Seminar—for their goodwill and good
thoughts on the project.
We would also like to express our appreciation to the various individuals
and institutions that have granted permission to reproduce the images appear-
ing in this book, and especially to the artists who have generously contributed
their work to the project. We would like to thank the School of the Art Insti-
tute of Chicago, and especially Dean of Faculty Lisa Wainwright, as well as the
Western University Ontario for supporting the production of this book. We are
grateful to Ken Wissoker, Jade Brooks, and the rest of the team at Duke Univer-
sity Press for bringing the project to fruition with such care.
Finally, Shawn would like to thank Joe Masco for engaging and sustaining a
conversation about Benjamin over the course of many years, and for the gen-
erosity of his support and enthusiasm for this book, and Sharon would like to
thank Melissa Adler for teaching her how to look at the world through a dif-
ferent lens.
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