The Unseen Document: Talks on Berenice Abbott & Muriel Rukeyser with Eric Keenaghan & Sarah M. Mille

How did two of the greatest documentarians of 20th Century, photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) and poet Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) both embed and evade their political views and personal lives in the making of their work? Join us for talks by Sarah M. Miller and Eric Keenaghan, leading scholars on Abbott and Rukeyser respectively, to think about their legacies in the context of their shared aesthetics, romance and collaboration in an era of Cold War state-surveillance. A conversation moderated by Ariel Goldberg who guest curated this event, will follow.

Eric Keenaghan is associate professor of English at the University at Albany, SUNY. His work focuses primarily on modernist and Cold War poets who have much to teach us about American political life and history, often with lessons directly related to our understandings of gender and sexuality. He is the author of Queering Cold War Poetry (Ohio State University Press). Since publishing that project, poet and activist Muriel Rukeyser has played a significant part in his work. His essays on her forgotten, often unpublished, texts have appeared in the Journal of Narrative Theory, Textual Practice, and Feminist Modernist Studies. As an accompaniment for his essay in that last journal, he also recovered Rukeyser’s suppressed feminist essay “Many Keys,” from 1957. For years, he has been working on recovering some of her other lost works–plays, essays, film scripts, autofiction and other stories. Alongside a constellation of other writers ranging from Walter Lowenfels and Kenneth Patchen to John Wieners and Diane di Prima, Rukeyser also has found her way into the two critical monographs he has been developing for a long while now–one called “The Impersonal Is Political,” on activist-poets who were influenced by modernism and associated with the New Left; and the other called “Life, Love, and War,” on anarchist pacifism, antifascism, and twentieth-century American poetry.

Sarah M. Miller holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and is Assistant Adjunct Professor of Art History at Mills College, Oakland, CA. A specialist in the history of photography, modern art, and American art, her work focuses on the invention, contestation, and multiplicity of “documentary” as a key concept in American photography. Selected publications include essays in Subjective/Objective: A Century of Social Photography, eds. Donna Gustafson and Andres Mario Zervigon (Zimmerli Art Museum/Hirmer, 2017) and Berenice Abbott, ed. Gaëlle Morel (Hazan/Jeu de Paume/Ryerson Image Centre, 2012). Her reviews, criticism, and interviews have appeared in Aperture, Critical Inquiry, Études Photographiques, Artforum, Photography & Culture,, and at SF Camerawork. Her work has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, the Council on Library & Information Resources, and the Center for Creative Photography, among others. Sarah’s book reconstructing the lost manuscript of Changing New York and analyzing its significance for a revised history of documentary photography in the 1930s is forthcoming from Ryerson Image Centre and the MIT Press, in partnership with the Museum of the City of New York.

Ariel Goldberg‘s publications include The Estrangement Principle (Nightboat Books, 2016) and The Photographer (Roof Books, 2015). Goldberg’s writing has most recently appeared in Afterimage, e-flux, Artforum, and Art in America. Based in New York City, Goldberg has taught writing at Pratt Institute, Columbia University, and The New School. They have been a curator at The Poetry Project, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, and the Jewish History Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Goldberg’s novel in progress, A Century, explores the intimate worlds of art critic Elizabeth McCausland and photographer Berenice Abbott in the context of the New York Photo League (1936-1951).