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The Corporate Eye

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

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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


"Solidly grounded in the cultural, political and economic history of the Second Industrial Revolution, The Corporate Eye broadens and deepens our understanding of photography's significance to American enterprise. This work resonates critically and valuably with earlier, heralded studies by David Nye and Roland Marchand, among others, by exploring fresh terrains and refining conceptual frameworks."

- Philip Scranton, series editor, Studies in Industry and Society
Johns Hopkins University Press
Studies in Industry and Society
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348 Pages
$59.00 USD
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