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Photography History

The Corporate Eye

Photography and the Rationalization of American Commercial Culture, 1884-1929

by (author) Elspeth H. Brown

Johns Hopkins University Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2008
History, Corporate & Business History, 19th Century
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2008
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2005
    List Price

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Winner, Association of American Publishers' Professional and Scholarly Publishing Award in Business, Management and Accounting

In the late nineteenth century, corporate managers began to rely on photography for everything from motion studies to employee selection to advertising. This practice gave rise to many features of modern industry familiar to us today: consulting, "scientific" approaches to business practice, illustrated advertising, and the use of applied psychology.

In this imaginative study, Elspeth H. Brown examines the intersection of photography as a mass technology with corporate concerns about efficiency in the Progressive period. Discussing, among others, the work of Frederick W. Taylor, Eadweard Muybridge, Frank Gilbreth, and Lewis Hine, Brown explores this intersection through a variety of examples, including racial discrimination in hiring, the problem of photographic realism, and the gendered assumptions at work in the origins of modern marketing. She concludes that the goal uniting the various forms and applications of photographic production in that era was the increased rationalization of the modern economy through a set of interlocking managerial innovations, technologies that sought to redesign not only industrial production but the modern subject as well.

About the author

Elspeth H. Brown is an associate professor of history at the University of Toronto and the director of the Centre for the Study of the United States, Munck Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

Elspeth H. Brown's profile page


  • Winner, PROSE Award for Business, Management and Accounting

Editorial Reviews

"The Corporate Eye is American studies and interdisciplinary cultural history at its best."

Journal of American History

"A highly welcome contribution to the field of business history as well as American visual culture."

Business History Review

"A unique and interdisciplinary analysis of the intersection between visual and commercial culture in the USA."

History of Photography

"Meticulous research and rich contextualization... A welcome and imaginative addition to the history of visual technologies and commercial history."

Industrial Archaeology

"This is a book whose 'big picture' is fully in focus."

Technology and Culture

"This highly readable, interdisciplinary book provides insights into both the history of American economic development and the history of photography."