The Devil is in the Details: Cutting, Cropping, and Visual Violence

National Museum Publishing Seminar, Graham School, University of Chicago
August 11, 2021

This presentation will be a case study of an editorial conversation that arose around publication of issue 6.2 of Panorama, the journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, in the fall of 2020. The design of our born-digital, online-only (and open-access) journal includes a customized graphic header for each article: a slender, horizontal detail of one of the works illustrated. As Panorama increasingly becomes a forum for scholars whose areas of inquiry are the power differentials endemic to the history of American art and culture, these images often feature the bodies of Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC), as well as other marginalized groups—and in the process of trimming the images to fit the horizontal format, those bodies are often cropped. Both members of the editorial team and authors have expressed discomfort with such cutting/cropping, arguing that it adds visual violence to the historical violence discussed in the articles themselves.

In this lightning round, I will walk through two specific examples from issue 6.2. In each case, I will discuss the choice of image in relation to the content of the article, walking through the options we explored and what we finally used, along with their pros and cons. I will then articulate what we have discussed as a nascent policy for selecting and cropping images for these header details, and I will close by inviting attendees into our institutional conversation about the role/relative value of artwork details as design elements and how we might mitigate a sense of visual violence for details that necessarily include bodies.

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