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Marien, Mary Warner

MARIEN, Mary Warner


Education: Syracuse University, Ph.D., 1978.


Office—Department of Fine Arts, Syracuse University, 308 Bowne Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244-1200. E-mail—[email protected].


Historian and author. Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, professor of history of photography and theory.


Photography and Its Critics: A Cultural History, 1839-1900, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Photography: A Cultural History, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including the Christian Science Monitor.


An investigation of the women's movement in the late twentieth century and its relationship to feminist art and art theory.


Reviewing Mary Warner Marien's Photography and Its Critics: A Cultural History, 1839-1900, Paul S. MacDonald noted in the British Journal of Aesthetics that "She carefully distinguishes the writing of such an account from an historical survey of photography as an art form or a history of techniques." Rather, Marien's concern is the idea of photography itself, and in both Photography and Its Critics and Photography: A Cultural History, the author—a professor at Syracuse University in New York—addresses fundamental questions about the nature of photography itself.

As articulated by Helene E. Roberts in Victorian Studies, among the issues addressed in the first section of Photography and Its Critics are photography's "origin (was it a natural phenomenon or a human invention? if an invention, who deserved credit for it?), its nature (was it a product of science or art, technology or magic, genius or craft?), and its ability to copy (did it copy nature or human sight? was it a mirror or a window?)." Though the modern world takes photography for granted as an invention that helps record the world as people see it, the pioneers of photography had other ideas, according to MacDonald. Both Henry Fox Talbot and Jacques Daguerre, who developed the first successful photographic techniques, referred to their work as a discovery of a natural process rather than an invention. MacDonald went on to note that "One of the strong sections of Marien's book is devoted to a detailed investigation of the invention of photography's inventors."

In developing her exhaustive investigation, Marien necessarily draws on a number of related phenomena. For example, there is this passage from Photography: A Cultural History, quoted approvingly by Andy Grundberg in Artforum: "Surveys were often organized for a variety of purposes, including providing clean water to European settlers, transcribing the geology of an area, scouting routes for railroads, and recording archeological or architectural sites. Often the surveys were carried out by military engineers, who had already recognized the value of photography for determining artillery range and reproducing maps and sketches."

According to Grundberg, "While Marien is apt and to the point when discussing the nineteenth-century practices of photography, …the real strength of her history lies in her organized account of late-twentieth-century photography." Reviewing Photography: A Cultural History in Library Journal, Savannah Schroll maintained that Marien "winnows the abundant photography production of the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries to harvest a concise and essential chronology of the medium's technologies and aesthetics."



Artforum, summer, 2003, Andy Grundberg, "Camera Obscured," p. 26.

British Journal of Aesthetics, January, 1999, Paul S. MacDonald, review of Photography and Its Critics: A Cultural History, 1839-1900, pp. 90-92.

Choice, May, 2003, C. Stroh, review of Photography: A Cultural History, p. 1543.

Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 1997, Terry W. Hartle, "A Snapshot of Photography's Revolutionary Early Days," p. 13.

Library Journal, February 15, 2003, Savannah Schroll, review of Photography: A Cultural History, p. 134.

Victorian Studies, spring 1999-2000, Helene E. Roberts, review of Photography and Its Critics: A Cultural History, 1839-1900, pp. 565-567.


Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences Web site, (September 17, 2003).

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