Title: Summer Snow

Photographer: Ralph Steiner
Author: Trudier Harris
Publisher: Beacon Press
Designer: Sara Eisenman


Image Title: American Rural Baroque 1929
Photo Genre: Documentary
Book Genre: Memoir

This 1929 photograph by Ralph Steiner is one of his best known. Titled 'American Rural Baroque', it predates Grant Woods 'American Gothic' by one year. In addition to being a sterling example of Modernist photographic formalism, it serves to portray, and preserve, an archetype of rural Americana; from the warmth of the light to the carefully crafted intricacies of the chair back, one feels a sense of calm, but also of loss.

In Trudier Harris' memoir, 'Summer Snow', Steiner's image becomes a cliché for the rural South. What I find interesting is how a very similar image, made by a different photographer but, consciously or not, influenced by the Steiner photo, is used in a book about metal illness and institutionalized living. In Michael Winerip's '9 Highland Road', the empty chair and its shadow becomes a symbol of absence (both literal and emotional) and of the borderline between confinement and freedom. While the shadow of Steiner's chair manifests itself as an engaging optical puzzle, the chair on the cover of Winerip's book (photographed by Kathleen DiGrado) casts the ominous shadow of bars on a stone wall. KB

To view the cover of '9 Highland Road', by Michael Winerip, click on 'Point of Interest'.