Articles tagged with: Linda Steer

  • New podcast challenges ideas of history of Western art

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  • New research shows empathy can shape drug policy

    Brock Visual Arts Professor Linda Steer’s research on drug photography has been published in the March edition of the International Journal of Drug Policy.


    In 2016, Ohio police released a photo of an American couple overdosing in their vehicle while a young child sat in the back. The image quickly went viral and attracted international attention.

    The predominantly negative conversation surrounding the image, and others like it, left Brock Visual Arts Professor Linda Steer wondering if viewing these photographs with more empathy could be key to changing discourse on drug users and altering drug policy in North America.

    Chosen for publication in the International Journal of Drug Policy, Steer’s article “Entangled empathy, drug use, and photographs of suffering” examines contemporary drug photography in the hopes of encouraging people to think outside of the box about drug use and users.

    “This research is very timely because every day we’re seeing a news story about the dangers of fentanyl or some other opiate,” said Steer, who teaches art history at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts (MIWSFPA). “There is a lack of understanding about what people that use drugs go through, and about drugs in general. It’s a kind of hysteria.”

    In the article, Steer examines the work of two contemporary photographers: Chris Arnade and Tony Fouhse. Both are middle-aged, white men, who photographed female drug users they met on the street.

    Steer looked at the artists’ work through the lens of ‘entangled empathy,’ a concept developed by American Philosophy Professor Lori Gruen. To Gruen, empathy is about more than simply being understanding and compassionate about another’s situation. Rather, it entails being responsive and responsible to that person in a way that promotes agency and positive change.

    Drawing from that idea, Steer studied how Arnade‘s and Fouhse’s photographs were created, circulated and received by viewers and compared how different settings, locations or mediums impacted the viewer’s engagement with empathy.

    “I found photographs with captions or text that worked to create a narrative had a better chance of creating empathy,” she said. “I also found that we can still have empathy when the power dynamics are quite uneven and that photographs shared on Facebook can sometimes provoke people to engage with their own experience of addiction in relation to the photograph.”

    Steer hopes the article will create dialogue about the role photographs of drug use play in shaping public opinion, and the opinion of policy-makers and government agencies.

    “Overall, photographic projects that show drug use have the potential to engage viewers with empathy and can be very useful in creating drug policy,” she said. “Policy-makers might see these kinds of photographs and notice how they can elicit empathy for people who are misunderstood or maligned. That can have a positive impact on policy.”

    Steer said having her work published in the journal is especially meaningful as this marks her first peer-reviewed article in a new field of research. The interdisciplinarity of her work is also important, she noted, as the journal typically publishes research from science-based disciplines.

    “I was really honoured for this work to be chosen as I think it speaks to how important photographs are and that we need to look more closely at the relationship between science and culture,” she explained. “Even scientific research is culture – so we’re bridging the gap between humanities and the sciences with this type of work.”

    She added that this research also showed her that “a lot more work has to be done” in this field of study.

    “Not just on empathy,” she added, “but on how it is related to politics, policy and how images create ideas about how we see others.”

    “Entangled empathy, drug use and photographs of suffering” is currently available for free download on the International Journal of Drug Policy website.

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  • Speaker provides chilling reminder of Canadian slave history

    Charmaine Nelson, far right, spoke on Colonial Print Culture and the Limits of Enslaved Resistance on Oct. 19 as part of the Walker Cultural Leader Series. She is pictured here with Department of Visual Arts Professors and event organizers, pictured from left, Keri Cronin, Linda Steer and Amy Friend.

    (Source: The Brock News, Thursday, October 26, 2017 | by: Alison Innes)

    Charmaine Nelson worked to paint a picture for the audience, one that detailed the experiences of Canadian slaves and the horrors they endured throughout history.

    The renowned scholar, known for her groundbreaking contributions in the fields of black Canadian studies, visual culture of slavery, and race and representation, delivered the first 2017-18 public lecture of Brock’s Walker Cultural Leader Series on Oct. 19.

    Her address drew more than 150 people who gathered at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines to listen to her presentation, Colonial Print Culture and the Limits of Enslaved Resistance: Examining the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century Fugitive Slave Archive in Canada and Jamaica.

    A professor of Art History at McGill University, Nelson has published seven books and held a number of prestigious research chairs across North America. She is currently the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University for 2017-18.

    As the first and currently only black professor within the discipline of Art History at a Canadian university, Nelson, through her website, is an advocate for the field of Black Canadian Studies.

    Her latest research, which she shared in her talk, attempts to understand the black experience in Canada by examining fugitive slave advertisements for details about the process of creolization in slave minority (temperate) and slave majority (tropical) locations in the British Empire.

    Nelson explained how she reconceptualizes fugitive slave ads — once produced by slave owners seeking to recapture their runaways — as portraits of enslaved people. The ads can provide information on a group of people who often leave no record of their own, she said.

    These portraits, however, are imperfect, since the subject is an unwilling participant and the depiction is written by the white slave owner. In addition, only slaves considered sufficiently valuable were pursued through advertising.

    Fugitive slave ads provided detailed racialized descriptions of enslaved people, including complexion, hairstyle, clothing, language, accents and bodily marks. In some cases, the ads offered rewards for the recapture of a fugitive slave, encouraging white participation in the criminalization of fugitive slaves.

    While the ads provide a portrait of enslaved people, they are also a lop-sided truth, Nelson explained. Some owners maligned fugitives with sweeping generalizations about their character, while others detailed specific crimes the enslaved person was alleged to have committed. Such descriptions helped associate blackness with slavery and criminality.

    Nelson draws on a variety of archival sources in her research to flesh out these portraits, tracing fugitive slave stories through estate ledgers, bills of sale, poll tax records and workhouse and jail ledgers.

    Nelson’s talk also explored the link between print and slave culture. Printed newspaper ads in the 18th and 19th century permitted white slave owners to assert their ownership over long distances.

    Although printers facilitated slavery by asserting rights of white people to own slaves, the abolitionist movement eventually used the same fugitive slave ads, with their references to injuries, scars and branding, to show the horror of slavery.

    As Nelson pointed out, many Canadians are unaware of Canada’s history of enslaving black and indigenous peoples.

    “Slavery is not a black history,” she explained, “but a multi-racial, transatlantic history. Who were the slave owners, the ships’ captains, the printers, the jailers?”

    The narrative of the Underground Railway, which Canadians eagerly embrace, spanned a period of about only 30 years, Nelson explained. She went on to challenge listeners to consider why the preceding two centuries of slavery in Canada have been erased from history.

    In concluding her talk, Nelson encouraged the audience to change the lens through which they see history. The opportunities in the field of Canadian slavery history are immense, she said, while directing her words to students. Since so few people are studying the black Canadian experience, there are many contributions to be made.

    The talk is part of the 2017-18 Walker Cultural Leaders Series, organized by Professors Keri Cronin, Linda Steer and Amy Friend the Department of Visual Arts and funded by the generous legacy of Marilyn I. Walker.

    The author, Alison Innes, has assembled her live tweets about the lecture at Storify.

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  • Visual Arts professor releases new book on photography

    9781409437307(Source: The Brock NewsFriday, December 9, 2016 | by )

    Professor Linda Steer has been fascinated with photography since she was a little girl looking at her grandmother’s photo albums. Her interest in photography and surrealism has now led to the recent publication of her book, Appropriated Photographs in French Surrealist Periodicals, 1924-1939.

    Steer says understanding the appropriation and recirculation of images is an important part of our media-rich culture.

    “Research on photography is becoming increasingly important as we live more and more of our lives through visual images,” she says.

    Memes are one modern example of how the meaning of an image changes.

    “They are typically photographic images that have been appropriated and altered through the addition of text or juxtaposition with other images. They circulate on social media. That process of adding text and re-circulating changes their meanings,” Steer says.

    The surrealists of the 1920s and 1930s were doing a similar thing in their magazines: taking existing images and juxtaposing them with other images or text. In this process, surrealists turned established images, such as medical images or crime-scene photographs, into works of art with very different meanings from the original photographs.

    It’s important to our image-laden lives to understand this process and what it means, says Steer.

    Her book is structured around four case studies and is the first of its kind on this topic.

    Since art history is an interdisciplinary field, Steer’s analysis engages with histories of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, ethnography, anthropology, literature and poetry, criminology, forensics, politics, religion, and popular culture in late 19th and early 20th century France and beyond.

    While the book is for an academic audience, Steer hopes those interested in photography and art will also find it appealing.

    “I hope that my book gives readers a new way of thinking about the complex relationships between surrealism and photography, and that it allows readers to understand, in a more general way, how photographs work and how they come to have meaning,” Steer concludes.

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