Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A.; Rutgers University, Ph.D.
Writer and educator. Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, assistant professor.
Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Reviews in American History, American Quarterly, Raritan, and Environmental History.
Writer and educator Finis Dunaway serves as an assistant professor at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. He holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University. He is a scholar interested in topics related to the cultural, environmental, and political history of the United States, as well as visual culture and general American studies, according to a biographer on the Trent University History Department Web site.
Much of Dunaway's research and written work centers on visual aspects of environmentalism and how images are used in an environmental context. Among his research projects is a visual history of the environmental crisis, noted the Trent University Web site biographer. Dunaway considers related political, visual, and environmental issues in his article "Reframing the Last Frontier: Subhankar Banerjee and the Visual Politics of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."
In Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform, Dunaway offers a book-length exploration of the ways in which photographs and film images have been vitally important in the development of American environmental politics. He also examines the ways in which such images have created modern popular perceptions of nature and the environment, whether or not those images are accurate and truly reflect the reality of the natural world. "Negotiating a tricky terrain between religion, aesthetics, and environmental politics, he is not entirely successful in melding the three into a single persuasive thesis; but Natural Visions offers some subtle and engaging set pieces along the way," commented reviewer C. Elizabeth Raymond in the Journal of American History.
"Dunaway presents an interesting yet incomplete review of how images have been an omnipresent tool for conservationists, ecologists, and environmentalists during the Progressive era, the New Deal, and the postwar period," commented American Historical Review critic Randal Beeman. The author divides the book into three sections covering these three distinct eras in American history while also providing professional and biographical profiles of important photographers of the times. In the first part, he concentrates on Herbert Gleason, one of the first photographers linked to the conservation movement, and an early employee of the U.S. Park Service. Gleason, heavily influenced by the environmental attitudes of writer Henry David Thoreau, worked to produce brochures and other promotional material covering America's many national parks. In part two, Dunaway writes about Pare Lorentz and Robert Flaherty, two New Deal-era filmmakers who believed in the ability of film and technology to spread the message of environmentalism. He also offers an analysis and critique of two of Lorentz's films, The Plow That Broke the Plains, from 1936, and The River, from 1937, and one of Flaherty's, The Land, from 1942. In the third section, Dunaway looks at the work of America's key environmental organization, the Sierra Club, and the popularity and influence of the group's large-sized, lushly illustrated books of often sweeping, panoramic nature photography. He considers the work and attitude of Sierra Club president David Brower and photographer Eliot Porter, who believed these grand-scale books were "essential tools of environmental reform," remarked Ryan J. Carey in the Canadian Journal of History. Dunaway notes how the books' audience was largely upscale and elite, restricting their reach and effects largely to intellectuals and others who already believed in the environmental cause. "Although the books helped to raise ecological awareness and played crucial roles in certain wilderness battles, their legacy, Dunaway rightly and gracefully argues, is ultimately ambiguous," Carey observed. In the end, Carey noted, "Dunaway puts these artists at the center of his story, yet, for all their creativity, he paints a picture of them as translators—conduits through which ideas from science, politics, and the deep wellspring of earlier American Romanticism flow into the mainstream of American culture (albeit refined and revised by these artists)."
Dunaway also addresses several instances in which particularly striking photographs have had a tremendous influence on the public. For example, he "points to the enormous significance of the 1968 photographs of Earth taken from space" and how they helped revise and reframe American "understanding of ecological relationships," Raymond noted.
Carey noted that Dunaway's work presents a "compelling argument told in an engaging style." Library Journal contributor Patricia Ann Owens remarked favorably on the book's "detailed, analytical quality," and called it "a fresh addition to any library's environmental or photography collection."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, February, 2007, Randal Beeman, review of Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform, p. 249.
American Quarterly, March, 2007, Thomas Robertson, "‘Questions of Seeing’: Images and the Culture of Environmental Reform," review of Natural Visions, p. 239.
Canadian Journal of History, autumn, 2006, Ryan J. Carey, review of Natural Visions, p. 399.
Journal of American History, December, 2006, C. Elizabeth Raymond, review of Natural Visions, p. 961.
Library Journal, December 1, 2005, Patricia Ann Owens, review of Natural Visions, p. 166.
Pacific Historical Review, May, 2007, Char Miller, review of Natural Visions, p. 288.
Reviews in American History, September, 2006, Michael Egan, "Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Visual Culture in American Conservation History," review of Natural Visions, p. 399.
Technology and Culture, April, 2007, Peter Bacon Hales, review of Natural Visions, p. 442.
Western Historical Quarterly, spring, 2007, Martha A. Sandweiss, review of Natural Visions, p. 95.
Winterthur Portfolio, summer-autumn, 2007, Mark Fiege, review of Natural Visions, p. 194.
Trent University History Department Web site,http://www.trentu.ca/history/ (May 22, 2008), author biography.