The present dissertation concerns the visual program of the 1940s New York tabloid PM, employer between 1940 and 1947 of both the sensational street photographer Weegee and the abstract painter Ad Reinhardt, and its systematic assertion of its own formal artifice and artistry to its hundreds of thousands of daily New York and national readers. In the wake of the First World War, John Dewey demanded a journalism, as a key instrument in the formation of public knowledge, that refused as politically calamitous a “spectator theory of knowledge,” positing a world “out there” objectively knowable, as through a lens, to a distinct awareness within, otherwise pervasive in American journalism. He argued instead for a journalism motivated by an actor theory of knowledge assuming that knowing can only be transactional, that the knowable world consists as such through the very processes of its representation and cognition. The conduit of that transaction, the newspaper, must then be transparent about its own formal operations, about the conditions of its own representations. PM emerged as the platform for a necessary traffic between the domains of print journalism and the fine arts during the 1940s, at the very juncture of economic depression and global war, which satisfied Dewey’s demand. ❧ The project considers five moments in PM’s journalism that exemplify its assertion of the transactional nature of visual journalism’s role as a conduit for public knowledge. The first chapter assesses the logic of the tabloid's 1940 exhibition of sketch reporting hosted by the Museum of Modern Art, arguing that the show was a both a declaration of PM’s unlikely artistic agenda and a trenchant challenge to the primacy of the discursively disembodied documentary photographic news picture. The second chapter considers the role of the handmade sketch report beyond the gallery and within the pages of PM’s daily reporting. For PM the sketch report was a productively ambivalent document, conveying information both about the world’s affairs and about the character of the agent responsible for that information’s transmission. Chapter three focuses in on PM’s strategy, through heavily retouched “radiophotos” sent from Moscow to New York in February 1941, for deploying news pictures in order to imbue the photographic image with something of the same authorially contingent rhetorical structure as the handmade sketch report. Chapter Four chronicles PM’s mobilization of the press photographer Weegee in the years prior to the publication of Naked City as the very embodiment of the invested, partial, and intervening photographic reporter, whose news pictures were marked as much by the indexical record of “the news” as by their maker’s own idiosyncratic sensibility, where his antecedents had always been discursively constructed as anonymous, disembodied machines for the production of objective visual truths. The final chapter, on the abstract painter Ad Reinhardt’s pedagogical cartooning for PM, considers this artist’s activation of the newspaper comic as a platform for the dialectical critique of pictorial journalism’s, and even PM’s, own representational procedures.
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