Photobooks by white male photographers provide the material for Justine Kurland’s new, radical publication

View Gallery 2 Photos

The photographer reappropriated 150 titles from her photobook collection, creating collages confronting the continued dominance of white men in the photo world

“His responses are entirely visceral, not cerebral; his intelligence is a mere tool in the services of his drives and needs; he is incapable of mental passion, mental interaction; he can’t relate to anything other than his own physical sensations.” So writes Valerie Solanas in the introduction of her SCUM (Society For Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, which was first published in 1968 and received widespread criticism. An expression of female outrage towards patriarchal abuse and women’s underrepresentation in the arts, the text remains influential, especially among feminist artistic circles. It is also the foundational inspiration behind Justine Kurland’s new photobook, SCUMB Manifesto, published by MACK. Playing on Solanas’ original title, Kurland offers a new interpretation: Society For Cutting Up Men’s Books.

Kurland’s vibrant red cover exudes the original rage of Solanas with alarmingly contrasting yellow text, presenting her own manifesto directed towards the men who dominate the photo world, setting the tone for her artwork in the pages beyond. “YOUR TIME IS OVER OFFICER HISTORIAN,” she writes. “I CALL FOR THE END OF THE GRAPHIC REPRESENTATION OF THE MALE CANON, ITS DADDY WORSHIP AND ITS MONOPOLY ON MEANING AND VALUE.” The collages within comprise spliced and diced reconfigurations of hundreds of images by straight white men, which Kurland purged from her own collection of photobooks, liberating it from a demographic that has dominated the canon since photography’s invention.

Justine Kurland, ‘New York in Color, 2021’, from SCUMB Manifesto (MACK, 2022). Courtesy of the artist and MACK.

Kurland’s sequencing in SCUMB Manifesto guides each viewer on a chaotic and humourous journey: a visual parallel to Solanas’ writing. The themes excavated by Kurland from her deaccessioned photobooks touch on everything from played-out obsessions with the female body, to the anonymisation of women, to repetitive landscapes. Merging these details into overstimulating mosaics, Kurland reframes “seminal” subject matter into something far more conceptually intricate and alarming. 

In addition to Kurland’s reinterpretations, SCUMB Manifesto contains numerous texts. These include an experimental essay by poet and artist Renee Gladman; a historical contextualisation of Kurland’s work within a subversive feminist collage by Marina Chao, and a piece by academic Catherine Lord, who poetically addresses the patriarchal whiteness that defines the art world. Poet and playwright Ariana Reines contributes a long-form essay on her experience with Solanas’ original text and how this informs her interpretation of Kurland’s work today. These contributions elevate Kurland’s collages, transcending her frantic cutting and destruction into a choreographed rage shared by many.

At the end of the book, after the reader experiences numerous full-spread visuals and interactive gate-folds, the work closes with an essay by Kurland herself, who addresses the themes popularly attributed to Solanas: queerness, Warhol, madness, and violence —again enacting a process of reinterpretation. “The manifesto called for an end to men, and the power that seeks domination, exploitation and death, and the creation of a superior, all-female society,” Kurland says of Solanas’ original text. “I have tried to visualize this society in my photographs.”
SCUMB MANIFESTO is published by Mack. 

Cat Lachowskyj

Cat Lachowskyj is a freelance writer, editor and researcher based in London. Prior to pursuing a career in writing, she trained as an archivist in Toronto, developing research on colonial photography albums at the Archive of Modern Conflict. She has completed residencies and fellowships at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ryerson Image Centre and the Rijksmuseum, and her current research interests involve psychoanalytical approaches to photography and archives. Cat’s writing has appeared in many publications including Unseen Magazine, The British Journal of Photography, Foam Magazine and American Suburb X, and she has held editing roles at both Unseen Magazine and LensCulture.