Rezension über:

Leena Crasemann: Unmarkierte Sichtbarkeit? Weiße Identitäten in der zeitgenössischen künstlerischen Fotografie (= Berliner Schriften zur Kunst), München: Wilhelm Fink 2021, 246 S., 56 Abb., ISBN 978-3-7705-5839-1, EUR 69,00
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Rezension von:
Marie Meyerding
Kunsthistorisches Institut, Freie Universität Berlin
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Kerstin Schankweiler
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Marie Meyerding: Rezension von: Leena Crasemann: Unmarkierte Sichtbarkeit? Weiße Identitäten in der zeitgenössischen künstlerischen Fotografie, München: Wilhelm Fink 2021, in: sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 10 [15.10.2022], URL:

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Leena Crasemann: Unmarkierte Sichtbarkeit?

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Submitted to Freie Universität Berlin as a dissertation in 2012 and published as a German academic book almost ten years later, 'Unmarkierte Sichtbarkeit?' seems partly out of time and yet could not be more up to date. Crasemann's book sets out to demonstrate how the medium of photography has been used historically and in contemporary artistic practice to expose or obscure white identities.

In the late 2010s, many popular scientific publications on structural racism in Germany appeared, such as Tupoka Ogette's 'Exit Racism' (2017), Alice Hasters' 'Was weiße Menschen nicht über Rassismus hören wollen, aber wissen sollten' (2019) or the volume 'Schwarzer Feminismus Grundlagentexte' (2019) edited by Natasha A. Kelly, which published many of the English foundational texts of Black feminism in German for the first time. At the latest since George Floyd's death in May 2020 and the subsequent Black Lives Matter mass protests, the debate on racism and the unmarked visibility of whiteness with its associated privileges has been conducted widely in Germany. Due to the time lag between writing and publication, Crasemann's book does not reflect any of the debate of the last decade, which may seem bizarre to today's readers. Still, the comprehensive developments of recent years also prove the significance of this research not only for the field of art history but also for society at large.

The subject of the book was, is and remains highly relevant. Its accessibility, however, is partially limited because of the author's complicated use of the German language, which is sometimes difficult to follow. This is especially the case in the short theory-heavy introduction, but changes in the later image descriptions and analyses. For instance, in the beginning of the first chapter on 'white narrative', Crasemann's study of Lisl Poger's photograph Wild Places (2001), which also adorns the book cover, provides a playful and successful second lead into the complex subject matter of the publication. A detailed image description is backed by a thorough theoretical framework, which skilfully leads into a sketch of the early history of photography. With reference to standard works of the European history of painting and historical uses of photography for ethnological studies, Crasemann discusses artistic photographs taken in the last twenty years that address the representation of skin colour.

The second chapter on 'white codes' looks at various photographs which display direct juxtapositions of Black and white representations of humans or anthropomorphic forms. Through an intermedial analysis, considering paintings, sculptures, collages, and magazines alongside photographs, Crasemann examines representations of race and gender to highlight underlying hegemonic structures of whiteness and masculinity. Although the publication's reference to Germany is already evident through the selected artworks and literature in the preceding parts, it comes fully into focus in the third chapter. Titled 'white appropriations', it negotiates the fascination of Germans with Native Americans through the series German Indians (1997-1998) by Andrea Robbins and Max Becher as well as photographs taken in the United States of America, once around 1900 and then about 100 years later. Through careful observations on social structures and modes of representation, Crasemann convincingly highlights not only the staged character of historical photographs portraying Native Americans but also the possible marked visibility of white German and US-American identities in contemporary photographs.

In contrast to the other sections, which mainly attend to human portraiture, the fourth chapter deals predominantly with desolate 'white places'. Again, departing from an artwork by Robbins and Becher, Crasemann explores how photography in history dealt with representations of poverty through architectural views. Her following inquiry into this topic and associated ethical questions encompasses almost the medium's entire history but remains limited to already known male positions from Great Britain and the United States of America. Discussing the doorstep as a recurring topos, the author concludes that social documentary photography only becomes effective through constant re-staging. Apart from some interesting observations on photography becoming a recognised form of art and Crasemann's reflection that she chose to discuss mostly white image producers capturing the living conditions of poorer people, this chapter does not offer a more profound and probably more exciting scrutiny of the visibility of white identities. The brief summary concludes with many important questions regarding possibilities of making the unmarked visible through various forms of representation and the gaze. A recapitulation of the previous chapters shows that Crasemann answered many of these questions and those that were not answered form important outsets for future research.

Starting from a title that covers a vast field of research, the author provides several in-depth examinations of how unmarked visibility of whiteness is negotiated by individual contemporary artists in their photographs. While her detailed analyses of selected works are extensive and thoughtful, Crasemann could have elaborated more on her own powerful research practices. She reflects on her own positionality following Donna Haraway (18) and the (im)possibilities of representation following Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (15) but could have dealt more strongly with her own use of language apart from footnotes (17). She could further have included a precise designation of how she selected the discussed photographs from the vast pool of lens-based contemporary artworks, many of which deal with questions of race, apart from vaguely stating that she chose works from artistic positions of the West produced after 1990 (31), which neither fully fits the inclusion of works by Angélica Dass or Iké Udé nor explains how the historic paintings and photographs were chosen as references. Moreover, a discussion of the racial bias inherent in the technological aspects of photography from its inception might have added another media-specific aspect to her otherwise convincing case-based investigation into the question of the construction of white identities in the current canon. [1] Analysing selected contemporary artistic photographs against the backdrop of well-known works and theories from the history of photography, Crasemann makes an important contribution to the still seriously under researched critical whiteness studies in the German-speaking art history.


[1] Sarah Lewis: Racial Bias and the Lens, in: In Vision & Justice: A Civic Curriculum, ed. Sarah Lewis, New York: Aperture Magazine, (2019), 79.

Marie Meyerding