Photo
Berenice Abbott’s Former Slave Market
Berenice Abbott has pictured the slave market as a place devoid of contemporary life, a place that was formerly a landmark in this small town but around which no one congregates any longer. Despite its former activity trafficking in human life and facilitating the subjugation of people of African descent the market is now isolated and desolate. Abbott’s use of the middle-distance perspective distances the viewer from the subject and emphasizes the spectator’s role in interpreting the subject. “It is conceived not as a one-way message but as a two-way dialogue. Abbott expected her viewers to question – and act on – their own perceptions.”[1] The street signs in front of the market pointing to other nearby towns set this place as one on the way to other places, much in the way the slave market functioned as a through-house for enslaved people on the way to somewhere else. These signs also symbolize the break up of families and loved ones, as well as the centrality of the institution of slavery to the pre-Civil War culture of the South. The market appears to be located on the Main Street of this small rural town, showing its once-central place in Southern life. The Liberty Bell present in the middle of the slave market reads as an apologetic declaration of democratic values inside this symbol of inequality and injustice. The same sentiment is expressed in the electically lit Cross on the spire. According to Abbott, “ultimately the photograph is a statement, a document of the now.”[2] Although on the face this is a photograph of a historical relic, the artist’s perspective urges the viewer to look closer at the present condition of the monument and its central location. There is a sign affixed to the front of the market as well as an informational one a short distance away that undoubtedly describes the history of the market. The slave market has been styled into a local monument, with all of the aforementioned symbols serving this end.
This photograph was taken in 1954, the same year as the passing of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in public schools. It was taken during a trip Abbott took along U.S. Route 1 in Georgia. During this time Abbott’s photographic interests moved “toward an interest in the artifacts, scenes, and patterns of unexceptional daily life.”[3] The purpose of her photographs was to record America as a changing entity. She tried on a number of occasions to publish her photographs in photo books, but very often was unable to find financial support for her projects. She called her style documentary and realist, deriding the pictorialists as sentimental. In that vein, photographs from this trip are all either Untitled or have simple descriptive titles. “Claiming “fidelity to fact” put her in the same camp as other 1930s documentarians, who worked in a cultural context dependent upon the public’s belief in the ability of the camera to record truth and to show circumstances as they actually existed.”[4] However as opposed to other documentary photographers of the era, her work during the period lacks any single iconic image.[5] Her work was to record the changing face of America, not to dramatize or idealize it. “What she actively supported was documentary photography, which she defined as realistic, objective – the more realistic the better.”[6] That said, her photographs are not purely factual, as no photograph really can be. She made decisions about subject, framing and staging that affect our understanding and interpretation. She was ultimately a modernist in tone and style, although she consistently wrote of her photographs as documents of truth. The photograph “Former Slave Market in Georgia along Route 1” is no exception. Upon first glance it appears as a simple documentary photograph, but with further inspection the artist’s hand becomes evident.
The monumentalization of a slave market has strong cultural and historical implications. The slave market can be considered an essential symbol of the entire domestic slave trade. “Here the traveling observers and writers found what they were looking for: a part of slavery that could be used to understand the whole of the institution. Slavery reduced to the simplicity of a pure form: a person with a price.”[7] It was here that all slaves were thoroughly inspected before sale, with any inflicted injuries or signs of disease decreasing their value. Slave auctions, and indeed the entire slave trade, denied the basic humanity of those being bought and sold. They were not considered worthy of basic human decency; “when young women were on the block the auctioneer often indulged in broad humor or suggestions that would have been considered indecent on almost any other public occasion.”[8] The whole spectacle served to emphasize the status of enslaved people as property to be bought and sold rather than as human beings. These African Americans at the societal periphery were denied their basic human rights by those at the societal center. The markets in large cities were popular tourist attractions, with slave auctions often fascinating visitors. Even in the 1950s it held residual interest for Abbott, a tourist passing through. A small rural market such as the one presented in Abbott’s photograph would have been central in the lives of the local people, as displayed by its very central location. Even at the time it was photographed, the area around it was totally clear so you cannot avoid seeing it. Making this market into a local monument has several connotations. On one side it memorializes the suffering symbolized by this structure and attempts to ameliorate the collective memory of that suffering. This is done by a layering of symbolism, through the addition of the Liberty Bell and Cross. This juxtaposition of democratic and unjust symbols creates a strong dichotomy that forces us to face the memory of slavery and consider it rather than enabling us to forget. Conversely, this act of monumentalization could be said to glorify the original function of this market. Rather than tearing it down and erecting the democratic symbols in its place, the slave market has been emphasized with signs and description. However there is certainly something to be said for the role of collective memory in avoiding future mistakes. In this case the slave market is an important reminder to anyone who sees it. The market reminds us of all our collective humanity through negative reinforcement.
Berenice Abbott’s photographs were intended to be “factual, detailed, and specific to time and place.”[9] She is most well-known for her series “Changing New York,” and the photographs I discuss here have received little exposure due to lack of financial backing. She described her photographs as documents, “or rather a picture deliberately made to resemble one.”[10] She was creating a historical record of the United States so that others might see the passing present moment before the cultural, architectural and physical face of the nation changed irreparably. She once said in an interview, “In broad terms the work I have done here is really the American scene, which I think is important to photograph because the United States is such a changing country and is still young. Photography can only represent the present. Once photographed the subject becomes part of the past.”[11] Despite her writings describing her work as factual and documentary, Abbott exercised artistic control over her photographs such that they call attention to the photographer’s presence and to our responsibility as viewers to understand and interpret the image. The photograph analyzed here is most evocative due to the subject matter Abbott chose to photograph. The slave market as local monument is a strong reminder of our country’s past injustices and its present (in the 1950s, at least, though I would argue now as well) apologetic policies toward this painful past. The symbols in and around the slave market serve to monumentalize it with a number of stark juxtapositions. The photograph here is as much about the eventual viewer as it is about the subject represented. It pictures the slave market devoid of life and unused; even though the historical signs suggest that it once bustled with life. Abbott chose to photograph the slave market with only a fleeting passerby and a moving vehicle, effectively questioning its validity as a historical landmark. The past and present are fused in the image, bringing both into the future through the use of representation. Abbott used the photograph to force a shift from passive looking to active seeing, making us re-consider the cultural effects and implications of the monumentalization of a slave market.

http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2000/09/21/27475.html

[1] Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. p. 79


[2] Lyons, Natahan, ed. Photographers on Photography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1966. p. 21


[3] Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. p. 1


[4] McEuen, Melissa A. Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2000. p. 252


[5] Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. p. 109


[6] Tucker, Anne, ed. The Woman’s Eye. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1973. p. 79


[7] Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. p. 2


[8] Bancroft, Frederic. Slave-Trading in the Old South. New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1931. p. 112


[9] Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. p. 115


[10] Weissman, Terri. p. 93


[11] "North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1 - Portland Museum of Art." Absolutearts.com. Indepth Art News, 03 Dec. 2000. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.


Bibliography
Bancroft, Frederic. Slave-Trading in the Old South. New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1931. Print.
Corwin, Sharon, Jessica May, and Terri Weissman. American Modern: Documentary Photography by Abbott, Evans, and Bourke-White. Berkeley: University of California, 2010. Print.
Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. Web.
Lyons, Natahan, ed. Photographers on Photography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1966. Print.
McEuen, Melissa A. Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2000. Print.
"North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1 - Portland Museum of Art." Absolutearts.com. Indepth Art News, 03 Dec. 2000. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2000/09/21/27475.html>.
Tucker, Anne, ed. The Woman’s Eye. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1973. Print.
Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

Berenice Abbott’s Former Slave Market

Berenice Abbott has pictured the slave market as a place devoid of contemporary life, a place that was formerly a landmark in this small town but around which no one congregates any longer. Despite its former activity trafficking in human life and facilitating the subjugation of people of African descent the market is now isolated and desolate. Abbott’s use of the middle-distance perspective distances the viewer from the subject and emphasizes the spectator’s role in interpreting the subject. “It is conceived not as a one-way message but as a two-way dialogue. Abbott expected her viewers to question – and act on – their own perceptions.”[1] The street signs in front of the market pointing to other nearby towns set this place as one on the way to other places, much in the way the slave market functioned as a through-house for enslaved people on the way to somewhere else. These signs also symbolize the break up of families and loved ones, as well as the centrality of the institution of slavery to the pre-Civil War culture of the South. The market appears to be located on the Main Street of this small rural town, showing its once-central place in Southern life. The Liberty Bell present in the middle of the slave market reads as an apologetic declaration of democratic values inside this symbol of inequality and injustice. The same sentiment is expressed in the electically lit Cross on the spire. According to Abbott, “ultimately the photograph is a statement, a document of the now.[2] Although on the face this is a photograph of a historical relic, the artist’s perspective urges the viewer to look closer at the present condition of the monument and its central location. There is a sign affixed to the front of the market as well as an informational one a short distance away that undoubtedly describes the history of the market. The slave market has been styled into a local monument, with all of the aforementioned symbols serving this end.

This photograph was taken in 1954, the same year as the passing of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in public schools. It was taken during a trip Abbott took along U.S. Route 1 in Georgia. During this time Abbott’s photographic interests moved “toward an interest in the artifacts, scenes, and patterns of unexceptional daily life.”[3] The purpose of her photographs was to record America as a changing entity. She tried on a number of occasions to publish her photographs in photo books, but very often was unable to find financial support for her projects. She called her style documentary and realist, deriding the pictorialists as sentimental. In that vein, photographs from this trip are all either Untitled or have simple descriptive titles. “Claiming “fidelity to fact” put her in the same camp as other 1930s documentarians, who worked in a cultural context dependent upon the public’s belief in the ability of the camera to record truth and to show circumstances as they actually existed.”[4] However as opposed to other documentary photographers of the era, her work during the period lacks any single iconic image.[5] Her work was to record the changing face of America, not to dramatize or idealize it. “What she actively supported was documentary photography, which she defined as realistic, objective – the more realistic the better.”[6] That said, her photographs are not purely factual, as no photograph really can be. She made decisions about subject, framing and staging that affect our understanding and interpretation. She was ultimately a modernist in tone and style, although she consistently wrote of her photographs as documents of truth. The photograph “Former Slave Market in Georgia along Route 1” is no exception. Upon first glance it appears as a simple documentary photograph, but with further inspection the artist’s hand becomes evident.

The monumentalization of a slave market has strong cultural and historical implications. The slave market can be considered an essential symbol of the entire domestic slave trade. “Here the traveling observers and writers found what they were looking for: a part of slavery that could be used to understand the whole of the institution. Slavery reduced to the simplicity of a pure form: a person with a price.”[7] It was here that all slaves were thoroughly inspected before sale, with any inflicted injuries or signs of disease decreasing their value. Slave auctions, and indeed the entire slave trade, denied the basic humanity of those being bought and sold. They were not considered worthy of basic human decency; “when young women were on the block the auctioneer often indulged in broad humor or suggestions that would have been considered indecent on almost any other public occasion.”[8] The whole spectacle served to emphasize the status of enslaved people as property to be bought and sold rather than as human beings. These African Americans at the societal periphery were denied their basic human rights by those at the societal center. The markets in large cities were popular tourist attractions, with slave auctions often fascinating visitors. Even in the 1950s it held residual interest for Abbott, a tourist passing through. A small rural market such as the one presented in Abbott’s photograph would have been central in the lives of the local people, as displayed by its very central location. Even at the time it was photographed, the area around it was totally clear so you cannot avoid seeing it. Making this market into a local monument has several connotations. On one side it memorializes the suffering symbolized by this structure and attempts to ameliorate the collective memory of that suffering. This is done by a layering of symbolism, through the addition of the Liberty Bell and Cross. This juxtaposition of democratic and unjust symbols creates a strong dichotomy that forces us to face the memory of slavery and consider it rather than enabling us to forget. Conversely, this act of monumentalization could be said to glorify the original function of this market. Rather than tearing it down and erecting the democratic symbols in its place, the slave market has been emphasized with signs and description. However there is certainly something to be said for the role of collective memory in avoiding future mistakes. In this case the slave market is an important reminder to anyone who sees it. The market reminds us of all our collective humanity through negative reinforcement.

Berenice Abbott’s photographs were intended to be “factual, detailed, and specific to time and place.”[9] She is most well-known for her series “Changing New York,” and the photographs I discuss here have received little exposure due to lack of financial backing. She described her photographs as documents, “or rather a picture deliberately made to resemble one.”[10] She was creating a historical record of the United States so that others might see the passing present moment before the cultural, architectural and physical face of the nation changed irreparably. She once said in an interview, “In broad terms the work I have done here is really the American scene, which I think is important to photograph because the United States is such a changing country and is still young. Photography can only represent the present. Once photographed the subject becomes part of the past.”[11] Despite her writings describing her work as factual and documentary, Abbott exercised artistic control over her photographs such that they call attention to the photographer’s presence and to our responsibility as viewers to understand and interpret the image. The photograph analyzed here is most evocative due to the subject matter Abbott chose to photograph. The slave market as local monument is a strong reminder of our country’s past injustices and its present (in the 1950s, at least, though I would argue now as well) apologetic policies toward this painful past. The symbols in and around the slave market serve to monumentalize it with a number of stark juxtapositions. The photograph here is as much about the eventual viewer as it is about the subject represented. It pictures the slave market devoid of life and unused; even though the historical signs suggest that it once bustled with life. Abbott chose to photograph the slave market with only a fleeting passerby and a moving vehicle, effectively questioning its validity as a historical landmark. The past and present are fused in the image, bringing both into the future through the use of representation. Abbott used the photograph to force a shift from passive looking to active seeing, making us re-consider the cultural effects and implications of the monumentalization of a slave market.

http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2000/09/21/27475.html



[1] Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. p. 79

[2] Lyons, Natahan, ed. Photographers on Photography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1966. p. 21

[3] Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. p. 1

[4] McEuen, Melissa A. Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2000. p. 252

[5] Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. p. 109

[6] Tucker, Anne, ed. The Woman’s Eye. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1973. p. 79

[7] Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. p. 2

[8] Bancroft, Frederic. Slave-Trading in the Old South. New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1931. p. 112

[9] Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. p. 115

[10] Weissman, Terri. p. 93

[11] "North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1 - Portland Museum of Art." Absolutearts.com. Indepth Art News, 03 Dec. 2000. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.


Bibliography

Bancroft, Frederic. Slave-Trading in the Old South. New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1931. Print.

Corwin, Sharon, Jessica May, and Terri Weissman. American Modern: Documentary Photography by Abbott, Evans, and Bourke-White. Berkeley: University of California, 2010. Print.

Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. Web.

Lyons, Natahan, ed. Photographers on Photography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1966. Print.

McEuen, Melissa A. Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2000. Print.

"North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1 - Portland Museum of Art." Absolutearts.com. Indepth Art News, 03 Dec. 2000. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2000/09/21/27475.html>.

Tucker, Anne, ed. The Woman’s Eye. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1973. Print.

Weissman, Terri. The Realisms of Berenice Abbott: Documentary Photography and Political Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

Text

Stars and Stripes

Emma Amos is a noted African American female artist with a wide variety of talents, from painting to printmaking to photography and weaving. Usually pulling from multiple media for her works, she incorporates a unique dynamism that spans several genres of the art world. Starting at an early age, Amos grew up in Atlanta in the 1940s and attended Antioch College in Ohio for art, the London Central School of Art for her certificate in etching, and then attended New York University and earned her BA in art education. Though that was the end of her official studies, she also worked as a designer/weaver for Dorothy Liebes at a textile manufacturer, which helped hone her skills for weaving and textile design (emmaamos.com).

Amos, being both female and black in the white-male dominated art world of the 1960s, continually fought for recognition from the art community. She has been quoted as saying “’For me, a black woman artist, to walk into the studio is a political act’” (Farrington 3). Through her perseverance in working on printmaking with artists such as Robert Blackburn and her acquaintance with muralist Hale Woodruff, she became the only female member of the prominent Civil Rights art group, Spiral, alongside well-known black artists such as Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis and Charles Alston (Hotton 24). Although the group fell apart in 1965, the ideas presented there had a large impact on Amos’ work and the growing notion that the status of minority could be an important and influential location, impacting in positive ways the Civil Rights movement (Farrington 4). Though not willing to define her art as “black art” she did believe that ethnicity played an important role in the artistic process and not something that could be ignored or brushed aside.

As Amos explored different mediums, she continued to weave, she called herself a “closet weaver,” because it would have been looked down upon by those in the higher art circles. Weaving was traditionally a feminine art, and at the time it was not considered much more than a craft as opposed to an art form. Later, she began to delve into photography and started to incorporate photos into her paintings. “’I love the irony of photography,” she says, continuing on to say that combining painting and photography provide a way of manipulating memory (Farrington 5-6).

Because of her work with so many different methods, Emma Amos tends to cross the line between ‘high art’ and ‘low art,’ and often quite deliberately. By the incorporation of textiles, photos, printed pages, and other media into paintings, she blurs what was once a hard line separating fine art from craft. This merging has become a part of Amos’ signature style—and there is also a distinct parallel here with her own life. Amos blurred the line drawn by society that resisted both black and female artists in the world of art, by being both and still integrating herself into that sphere.

Stars and Stripes, a piece completed in 1992, is a relatively small work composed of photograph incorporated into an oil painting on paper. The two together present a roughened depiction of the American flag, with the photograph tinted blue and occupying the upper left quadrant of the artwork to represent the “stars” and the rest of the piece filled by finger-painted stripes of red and white that number more than 13 (the exact number is hard to determine because of the lines, but it is approximately 22 whole and partial lines). The subjects of the photograph are a group of African-American children staring solemnly out of the plane of the picture and gazing directly at the viewer. The posture and facial expressions of the children range from baleful to slightly angry to confused; none look happy. The style of clothing and the car in the background places them temporally as somewhere around the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, though it may have been taken either slightly before or after this period. The use of finger-painting is symbolic here because of the literal shaping of the flag by human hands. It gives the work an immediacy and a general roughness that speaks to human imperfection, which can be further reflected upon as the imperfection of American ideals and values because of the shortcomings of society that are yet to be overcome.

In this work, Amos takes a quintessential American symbol of pride and hope and freedom and transforms it into an image of frustrated dreams, pointing out the harsh contrast between the “American dream” and the “American reality.” The stripes of the flag, instead of being pristine and straight, are blurred and bent, painted crudely at varying widths and with a large X swiped onto the middle of the image, through the stripes of the flag as if cutting it. Combining this imagery with the sullen children that are both the literal and figurative “stars” of the piece points out the irony of the American dream by showcasing figures that are embedded in the national dialogue and yet still unable to achieve the goal of equality. The fact that they are children, symbols of innocence and optimism, yet already downtrodden and robbed of their possibilities, makes the wrongness Amos is trying to convey doubly apparent. This flag, then, becomes a marker of the failure of this ideal, and an inversion of the traditional history usually touted by the idyllic American flag—similar, in some ways, to Chagoya’s “reverse anthropology” idea, though much less surreal in her depiction of social wrongs.

The theme of this course has been to examine the idea of critical diversity in the United States, how it is (or isn’t) represented through art, and how the idea of diversity and its representation has changed over time and artistic movements. Our exhibition tries to tease out and highlight an idea of diversity on the periphery, the diversity of those we might lump together under a term of “other” and haphazardly call diverse for lack of a better understanding. The goal is to delve deeper into the visual space of that term to show different layers of diversity, especially from the perspective of those considered to be “on the edges” of society, and to encourage viewers to actively engage in works that inhabit a different dimension of what might usually be considered a commonplace assumption or stereotype.

Stars and Stripes looks specifically at how the US has handled diversity in the face of the American dream, and the paradox of the myth of the American dream and how it relates to the myth of the “center” of society. For if there are fringes, and others, theoretically there must be a center where one locates themselves. Emma Amos points out the failure of the American dream from the eyes of African American children, representative of the oppressive history of African Americans throughout the history of the United States. It brings up the injustices, as well as the measures that have been made to rectify those wrongs. Whether or not they have been fully resolved is a matter that the viewer must deal with individually.

Societies are not defined by their similarities to individuals within that particular society or culture, but by the differences of those considered to be outside of it—the borders or boundaries. What is other (outside that boundary) is not fully understood, and as such is lumped under broad generalizations that are generally derogatory. The idea with this show is to question those assumptions and open up a dialogue among the viewers about just how they ascribe to the generalizations of “other,” where they draw a line of demarcation, and if it is possible to get rid of the line altogether.

Works Cited

"Biography | Emma Amos." Emma Amos/ Artist. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. <http://emmaamos.com/about/bio/>.

Farrington, Lisa E. “Emma Amos: Art as Legacy.” Women’s Art Journal 28.1 (2007): 3-11. JSTOR. Web. 4 Nov. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20358105>.

Hotton, Julia. “Emma Amos: Woman of Substance.” Black American Literature Forum 19.1 (1985): 24-25. JSTOR. St. Louis University. Web. 3 Nov. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2904468>. 

Text

El Regreso del Cannibal Macrobiótico

El Regreso del Cannibal Macrobiótico (The Return of the Macrobiotic Cannibal) is a somewhat surrealist series of prints by Mexican-born artist Enrique Chagoya. The work itself is made up of eight connected pages that combine classical imagery from the Aztecs, modern American pop-culture, and stylistic elements from the Spanish Renaissance to comment upon the “cultural and psychological consequences of a collision between worlds that spans more than five hundred years” (Greeley 5). He uses the juxtaposition of these ideas to create satirical images that play off of stereotypes of culture, both Mexican and American. Chagoya’s works are not strictly social satire but what he terms “reverse anthropology,” reimagining histories primarily dictated by the victorious cultures and the military powers—and from the perspective of this artist, Western culture has long cannibalized other cultures, defeating them militarily and appropriating aspects of the conquered society for their own use (Hickson 15-16).

Born in Mexico City in 1953, he grew up with a Nahuan nurse who introduced him to the sympathetic side of the Indian culture in Mexican society. He talks about being raised around, and interacting with, the “’parallel experiences’ of disconnected culture,” saying:

We used to go for picnics to the pyramids of Teotihuacán… [where] my dad’s family is from. And then we were going to [Catholic] church. At the same time, I grew up with Mickey Mouse and Superman and all the comics. All the American programs from the sixties and seventies were translated into Spanish (Hickson 13).

This peculiar interaction with and exposure to the range of often-contradictory cultural norms combined with his growing interest and involvement in social movements (the Tlateloco Massacre and the Halconazo, as two examples, which were dubiously reported on by the Mexican media) led him to study political economics at the Universidad Nacional Autonóma de Mexico (National Autonomous University of Mexico) (Hickson 14). Following this, in 1977, he moved to the United States. But the power that the Mexican government had to control the outflow of information shared through the media helped shape Chagoya’s reverse anthropology ideas in his work.

            American pop-culture also features prominently in Chagoya’s work, springing from the early exposure to the icons in Mexico as a child. It is simultaneously representative of the ubiquitous and domineering nature of American commercialism and the parallels of cultural and physical authority. It also serves to draw attention to the differences between American and Mexican stereotypes, despite the different temporal boundaries. Much of Chagoya’s oeuvre is defined in part by the absence of linear time, which rather than making his art more muddled, throws into sharper relief his main point—that history is constructed and subjective. He questions the historicity (historical actuality) of the past and the present to try and get the audience to rethink their perceptions of the historical record, and from a different point of view.

        This specific work, El Regreso del Cannibal Macrobiótico, is a color lithograph woodblock print constructed in the form of a codex, the traditional Meso-American way to record histories (Basilio et al. 164). The paper used is amate, a paper made of fig-bark also used by the ancient indigenous peoples in and around Mexico, and is read from right to left like the Aztecs, as indicated by the dot and dash numbering system that was also used by the Aztecs. This, more than as a cultural element, is significant in that only about 22 codices survive from the libraries of the area, because of the mass burning of all the libraries by the Spanish soldiers and priests as they made their way through the land.

Because of this almost all knowledge of the Aztec written language was lost. Chagoya sums up this piece as his own re-imagining of what could be, in terms of the lost codices: “Since from this perspective history is an ideological construction, I decided to invent my own account of the many possible stories - from Cortez to the border patrol - in my own visual language. I mix pre-Columbian mythology with Catholic icons, American comics and images of ethnic stereotypes” (Yale). He juxtaposes imagery such as the anatomical drawing of a bust, perhaps an Aztec sacrifice, with the color print of the Virgin Mary placed where the heart would generally be located within the chest of the image. He brings in issues of border control and immigration, and parallels Aztec sacrifices with the blood of Christ in successive pages within the codex. Dying Aztec deities are placed within classical Christian architecture, and Aztecs are depicted in classical Greek and Roman styles, or even Renaissance-style prints. Everything within these pages is inverted in some way to show how the people in Mexico have been and continue to be ignored, obscured, or violently superseded by Western ideals. He does, however, offer his alternate-historical ending with the indigenous as the hopeful victors, in the last two panels with the indigenous cannibals chasing the boats into the water instead of running away from them, fiercely defending their territory, and then in the final print with Superman getting knocked out by the skull rendered in Indian style.           

        The upcoming show deals with diversity in attempting to look at the world through the eyes of those on the edges of society, rather than from the perspective of the center. Ethnicities and cultures, generally speaking, define themselves not through the similarities that bind them together but in their difference from ‘the other.’ It is by the boundary that they are defined, which makes the center difficult to identify. But there is always the other, and the point of this exhibit is to put into perspective the view of that other, no matter how the viewer perceives that boundary within themselves. This amazingly complicated and multi-layered piece is showing the marginalization of both ancient indigenous and modern Mexicans by contrasting them with ubiquitous and ‘centralized’ American figures such as Superman; it is also contrasting the traditional codex format with the bright, cartoonish colors and bold lines reminiscent of comic strips.

The powerful imagery renders the “center” (in this case the Western culture and American commercial figures) as an uncomfortable and ostentatious place to be, and it draws stark attention to the plight of the modern people in Mexico—and the domineering attitude that American/’Western’ culture adopts toward them even still—through the representation of the suffering and domination that the ancient indigenous people had to endure. This example of reverse anthropology in El Regreso del Cannibal Macrobiótico is at once an offering of a new interpretation of history and a reflection of current social dilemmas in the hopes that now, with more awareness, what happened in the past will not happen in the present or the future, that cultures will not cannibalize each other as they have so often throughout the world. Thus the title, The Return of the Macrobiotic Cannibal, in this context is not so much a simple representation of the inversion of past events, but a warning to the viewers of the destructive power of cultural domination.


Works Cited

Basilio, Miriam. Latin American and Caribbean Art: MoMa at El Museo. New York: El Museo Del Barrio, 2004. Print.

Hickson, Patricia, ed. Enrique Chagoya: Borderlandia. Des Moines: Des Moines Art Center, 2007. Print.

"Poetics, Politics, and Song." Yale University Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <http://www.library.yale.edu/aob/Exhibition/chagoya.htm>. 

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Sheena Tries on Clothes, from “Girl Culture”

Lexi Glassman ARTH 4107: The Museum and the Object Exhibition Essay #2 Although it has been ten years since Lauren Greenfield’s provocative collection of photographs, “Girl Culture,” was published and displayed in galleries across the country, it has remained a powerful visualization of the conflicting influences of consumer culture on femininity in America in the 21st century. Greenfield pairs photographs from an assortment of her previous journalistic and creative assignments with interviews from some of the girls pictured, ultimately achieving an evocative medley of views of—and perspectives from—the lives of contemporary American girls. Seen by over 600,000 people since it’s opening, “Girl Culture” has served not only as a exhibition in art photography and cultural commentary, but also an educational tool for young people in America. Through her forays into the private lives of young women—both celebrity and unknown— across a spectrum of racial, socioeconomic, and geographical lines, Greenfield examines the commonality of the young, female experience in America. The raw and sometimes shocking photographs in “Girl Culture,” illustrate moments of anxiety, egotism, comfort and competition as girls struggle to attain their own personal goals of fulfillment. From a four-year-old in lipstick and a leotard to a Las Vegas showgirl, the individuals represented in Greenfield’s photographs have been inundated with a preoccupation for self-image, status, notions of beauty by our society’s often shifting, highly demanding standards. Following her interest in the female body as a canvas for expressing these difficult dynamics in the lives of young women, Greenfield artfully and aptly executes photography—an especially appropriate medium to investigate the role of image and identity in our culture. Along with “Girl Culture,” many of Greenfield’s projects in both photography and cinematic direction have been critically acclaimed and celebrated by an international audience. Expanding from her beginnings as a photojournalist for National Geographic after graduating from Harvard in 1987, Greenfield has regularly featured work in many prominent magazines such as The New York Times Magazine, Time, Vanity Fair, People, The New Yorker, and others, since 1991. In addition to her art photography, Greenfield’s latest and most electrifying work has been in mixed-media photographic collections, such as “Girl Culture,” and documentary pieces drawing from her photography. Greenfield has directed four films, and implemented the mixed-media method in a variety of highly engrossing projects in cultural anthropology: Greenfield’s “Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood,” and “THIN”—a photo-exhibition piece as well as an HBO documentary—about the lives of a number of women at the Renfrew center, a residential facility for the treatment of severe eating disorders in Florida (LG website). Greenfield’s most recent film, “The Queen of Versailles,” which follows a billionaire-family when their construction of the largest single-family home in America is halted by the economic downturn of 2008, won the U.S. Directing Award from the 2012 Sundance Film Festival (wiki). “Girl Culture,” however, remains to be one of Greenfield’s most profound pieces of documentary photography. One particularly compelling photographs and interviews in the collection, “Sheena tries on clothes with Amber, 15, in a department store dressing room, San Jose, California,” exposes the secret-rituals and private moments of scrutiny that almost every woman has experienced in America: trying on an outfit in front of a mirror. Paired with the interview of fifteen-year-old Sheena, the photograph portrays a brutally honest look into the life of a teenager trying to make sense of her body, sexuality, and social status. In the image, Sheena, the so-called “most popular freshman girl” stares intensely into the mirror off-camera, pushing her breasts up and together to create more cleavage in her belly-top, while her friend Amber looks on from a fitting-room bench. Sheena wears heavy makeup—lip-liner outlines her dark lip gloss, dark black eyeliner and shadow drench her eyes—a process she says she will re-apply at least three times every day (“Girl Culture” interview). Sheena smokes cigarettes, drinks heavily, and is a self-stated bisexual. Apart from her rebellious personality as shown in her interview, Sheena is depicted in Greenfield’s photograph to represent an extreme of modern female identity. From the perspective of the camera, this fifteen-year-old girl gazes at her own unseen reflection with intense self-deprecation, pushing her breasts together with her hands as her friend and the viewer look on. The complexity of gaze implemented by Greenfield through the composition of the photograph lends a deeper and more profound relationship between subject and viewer; our perspective of Sheena, as viewers, stands in direction opposition to Sheena’s critical view of herself. Our gaze is not met by the subject’s eyes, but deflected onto her own—and her friend’s—judgmental view of herself. This matrix of gaze, and with it, a calculus of female desirability, self-acceptance, and sexuality, alludes to the constant dynamics of pressure, both self-inflicted and from society, on young women today. It is possible that Sheena is just as critical of herself as any other person is of her; both the drastic routines of beautification outlined in her interview as well as her hardened look at her own reflection would suggest this. Her unemotional exhibitionism is characteristic of the new feminine identity. In Greenfield’s afterword to “Girl Culture,” she writes, “The performance and exhibitionism…seems to define the contemporary experience of being a girl” (Girl Culture). However, how do we, as viewers, enter into the equation of perception and judgment of said exhibition? Furthermore, how does our opinion, formulated solely from gaze, play into a feedback-loop of self-judgment? That is to say, how do the values and semiotics of our consumer-society steer girls into a sexualized, expensive conception of beauty, and subsequently, how do society’s standards exponentially increase already fragile insecurities in young women? These issues are confronted through Greenfield’s play of subjectivity and gaze in her photograph. According to Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Cornell professor and author of the book “The Body Project”—a key theoretical influence on Greenfield’s work on female body-image—writes that Greenfield’s photography serves as an attempt to deconstruct the illusions that make up our reality (Girl Culture). “Sheena” is a piece that pries into the private moment of a young woman experiencing the anxiety and pressure that millions of American women feel every day concerning their body and image, both inside and outside the fitting room. Of her own work, Greenfield writes, “the female body has become a palimpset on which many of our culture’s conflicting messages about femininity are written and rewritten” (Girl Culture). Greenfield transforms the female body into a canvas, and the camera as a documentation of how this canvas is marked for women throughout our society. Perhaps the next step is to shift our view from the bodies of girls and towards the society that inculcates them throughout the most crucial period of their development.

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Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations

Lexi Glassman

ARTH 4107: The Museum and the Object

Kamrooz Aram: “Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations”

            Kamrooz Aram’s drawing, “From the Series Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations” introduces a unique and important framing of our exhibition’s discussion of stereotyping and the interaction between the margin and the center in America.  Aram’s piece, and contemplation of his work as a whole, lends a complicated yet informative perspective to our collection. Departing from other pieces in the show in medium, form, and subject matter, “Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations” completes a complex narrative of how we may begin to reconcile questions of diversity through art in today’s America. 

            Throughout his career, Aram has dealt with issues of “self-Orientalizing,” or the tendency of Islamic Artists living in the West to feel pressure to compartmentalize themselves within a “Oriental” tradition as a means of dealing with social and cultural issues. (*Firstenberg Interview*) Born in Shiraz in 1978, Aram has lived in the United States since age eight.  His Iranian heritage plays a role in his work, both thematically and stylistically.  Since receiving his MFA from Columbia University in 2003, Aram has showcased his work in a number of solo exhibitions at reputable locales, including Mass MoCA, LAXART in Los Angeles, and others (*ART DUBAI Interview*) Although he was trained and educated in Western schools, Aram’s work engages in Eastern iconography and imagery.  Cultivated and nourished by his insatiable interest in the Persian Rug market in New York City, Aram appropriates Islamic geometric patterns and imagery into his drawings, paintings, and collages.  By decontextualizing this traditional iconography, Aram seeks to emphasize our reliance on context to provide fluency in visual culture.  Kamrooz Aram, through his drawing “Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations,” successfully challenges the viewers’ perception of Middle Eastern iconography within the context of Western Art, while simultaneously interrupting the binary of “East versus West” that we so often yield to in Western Art History and moreover, in society as a whole.

Excelling in various media including painting, drawing, and collage works, Aram has proven his skill through constantly evolving style; his painting contrasts harshly with his drawings in both form and method.  Both media, however, contribute to Aram’s overarching engagement in iconography as a means to complicate the viewer’s perception of the very images they encounter in his work through shifts in context.  How does one appreciate and understand the American Bald Eagle, a quintessential symbol of American patriotism, when Aram’s depiction of the bird is taken from an amalgam of a scientific illustration of a hawk and the falconry images from a book celebrating Sheikh Zayed?  How do these symbols, turned iconographic through constant repetition, serve a purpose in Aram’s work, and furthermore, how dependent is this iconography on context?

            The drawing “From Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations” points to these questions and poses many others.  Acquired by the H.F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University in 2008, this drawing comes from a series of the same name.  Relatively small in scale, measuring at 13 x 10 inches, and with the figure itself taking up only a condensed portion of the page at center, this drawing is far from the virtuoso display of aesthetics seen in Aram’s bold paintings.  It does, however, still engage the viewer with its fine-lined penned detail.  While Aram’s paintings are each carefully planned out and worked over in the studio, his drawings—such as “Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations” come about exclusively in his home in a more organic fashion.  Aram admittedly never draws in his studio, preferring the intimacy and immediacy of his home to spur the drawing process. (*Firstenberg interview*)  He works on his drawings either the moment he wakes up or right before he goes to sleep at night, and does so without any sort of plan for the design of the piece, calling this process his “ritualistic form of visual thinking” (Firstenberg Interview).  This element of spontaneity informs the organic nature of his drawings, while his ritualistic method ensures that strong themes and imagery in his work will likely perpetuate.   Both of these assumptions come to fruition in “Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations.”

            The first thing we notice in “Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations” is the small bust of a man, seen in profile, at the center of the drawing.  With his face turned to the left and his eyes straight ahead, this mustached figure dawns a turban-like headpiece and thick side-burns of dark hair underneath.  Shaded with cross-hatched fine pen lines, the portrait appears to be floating in infinite space, detached from both body and context.  The dark ink of the pen contrasts sharply from the bare white background of the canvas.  The man himself appears to be concerned as his vision stares intently ahead, leading the viewer to notice the subtly-shaded purple and orange geometric pattern occupying the negative space of the drawing.  Although the pattern is not loud or domineering in composition, it spans more of the page than the figure itself, concentrated directly in front of the man’s eyes at its epicenter, and expanding out into a faintly-exploded blue.  The addition of subtle geometry and color enhances and complicates this compositionally simple drawing.  In traditional Islamic art and culture, geometric patterns and tessellations are a significant and evocative religion motif; the constant repetition of the pattern suggests infinity, or closeness to the divine.   Who is this man and what is his relationship to the divine? Further, how does Aram’s title of the piece, “Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations” inform our understanding of this figure?

Perhaps, it has been posited, the man in this drawing, as well as other figures represented by floating-heads in the series “Mystical Visions,” are Sufi figures, or educated teachers of Islam’s mystical strain.  They vaguely reference the Iranian tradition of illustrated religious text—specifically miniature painting—of the 13th-15th centuries during the Illhanid Period (MetMuseum).  Is the man in “Mystical Visions” a Mullah, a spiritual teacher of Islam?  To the unfamiliar eye, perhaps, Aram’s use of the exaggerated turban and Middle Eastern-looking man could also be perceived as the stereotypical image of an Islamic extremist, a figure of ambivalent standing in the United States.  This complicated imagery is not accidental on the part of Aram. 

The artist knowingly depicts a somewhat controversial image and identity in “Mystical Visions.” This work raises the question of how we stereotype and compartmentalize Eastern culture in the West, and how these perceptions color our understanding of art and visual culture.   Furthermore, being of Iranian descent, Aram purposefully introduces heavy Islamic iconography in order to explore the dependency of said images on context.  In an interview with Lauri Firstenberg for his exhibition at MassMoCA in 2006, Aram expresses his distaste for the contradictions of geometric forms within the Western context, and they way that what is considered a sacred motif in the East is denigrated to the label of “decorative” in Western art.  In an interview with Art Dubai, Aram laments, “I wish there was another word other than “decorative” that we could use to describe patterns” (Art Dubai).  Recognizing a parallel between the commodification of Persian rugs, a prime example of how patterns in Islamic art have come to be perceived as “decorative” in the Western market, and the way in which painting has become highly commodified luxury-good throughout the 20th-21st century art world, Aram seeks to tease out the contradictions between Eastern and Western art by bringing this problematic language of binaries to light in his work.  Aram’s “Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations” suggests a hybridity of culture—a conception of Art as an acknowledgement of the heterogeny of both East and West, over the homogeny of either.  

The title’s allusion to the Allan Ginsberg poem “America” is perhaps the most telling interpretation of Aram’s work; “Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations” is, first and foremost, a piece of American Art.  But how does Aram’s art, much like Ginsberg’s poetry, both strengthen and criticize our understanding of what it means to be American?  As an artist in the United States with ancestry in the Middle East, Aram capitalizes on his Western training and global vocabulary to remove himself and his art from the easy distinction of central or other, West or East, and instead finds his voice in this refusal to simply identify.  

 

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Backdrops Circa 1940s

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960, African American artist Lorna Simpson gained prominence in the 1980s for her photograph-and-text works that confronted and challenged the traditional views of gender and race regarding their relationship to memory and history (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uANWRutUk8). Inspired by historical representations of the African American woman, Simpson used this subject to explore the ways in which gender and culture influenced the experiences of life in a post-Civil Rights and Black Power America, but also an America beginning to navigate the social landscapes of state-sanctioned multiculturalism. During the 1990s, she experimented with the medium of her work by taking large multi-panel photographs (still accompanied by texts) and printing them onto felt. The effect created a richness in depth, tonality, and composition—qualities that have come to characterize Simpson’s diverse oeuvre. Backdrops Circa 1940s, which was created in 1998, proves no exception (Figure 1). Through the visual elements of contrast and fragmentation, Backdrops Circa 1940s provides a compelling lens to grapple with the constructs surrounding black femininity and agency. Simpson ultimately demonstrates that the African American woman—from ordinary to famous, from past to present—continues to struggle for proper representation, and thus, a true identity. As a subject of the periphery, she is constrained by the mainstream cultural controls of the center.  


Backdrops Circa 1940s forms a powerful diptych that establishes a dialogue for contrast. Two vintage photographs, probably purchased by Simpson at a flea market or on eBay (as, she notes, was the method of collection for a group of 1957 images), comprise the composition: the photograph on the left depicts an unknown, ordinary African American woman whereas the photograph on the right depicts the famous, Hollywood African American singer, dancer, and actress, Lena Horne (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByelVkCvsA4). In 1933, at the age of 16, Horne began her stage career as a dancer in the chorus line of Harlem’s Cotton Club, a white-only patron night club that, ironically, featured many black musicians and guests including Nat King Cole and Langston Hughes, to just name a couple. This role, in addition to appearances on Broadway and a tour with the Charlie Barnet Orchestra, propelled her to numerous small song and dance numbers on the silver-screen throughout the 1940s. Shortly thereafter, Horne became the first African American performer signed to a long-term contract by a major film studio. Horne experienced another major breakthrough in 1943 when she starred as the leading role in the all-black musical Stormy Weather (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCG3kJtQBKo). From her personal interracial marriage to white composer Lennie Hayton to her public success of being one of the first African American actresses to work on both sides of the color line, Horne appears to have overcome the racial injustices of the time. This, however, is not the case. Similarly to the African American woman who occupies the left photograph of Backdrops Circa 1940s, Horne faced constant prejudices and racial practices in a segregated society. 

A stark contrast exists between the obscured history of the unknown, ordinary African American woman and the detailed history of Lena Horne. Highlighting these histories, as well as the visual differences between the two photographs that form Backdrops Circa 1940s, stress the struggle for representation and identity of African American women. At the base of the left image, Simpson’s text reads, “…seated in photographers studio, circa 1940s.” These words, of course, describe the subject above: a twenty-something-year-old African American woman, who, surrounded by nighttime props, sits on a box ready for her picture to be taken. She wears a simple frock, but attempts to dress it up by adding accessories, including earrings, a bracelet, and a bow. This woman has most likely seen many of Horne’s Hollywood performances, and she aspires to be like her—even if this means only embodying a glimpse of her glamour—through a professional photography session. Here, in the studio, it appears she can control the representation of herself, of her identity. This unknown, ordinary African American woman may, for a moment, think of herself as beautiful and as powerful as Lena Horne. Although, as the text on the right, “…standing while singing on film set, circa 1940s,” suggests to its subject above, even Horne struggles to assert her power. On stage, Horne must transform into character, into someone else, and therefore, she losses herself, her identity. In this context, her elegant off-the-shoulders gown and dramatic makeup propagate, not luxury, but ultimately the choices of another. Whether standing on stage or seated in the studio, the degree of autonomy surrounding the African American woman seems as carefully calculated and constructed as the stars that occupy the backgrounds on these backdrops.


The initial contrasts in histories and appearances portrayed in Backdrops Circa 1940s quicklysubside to reveal similar social plights in attempting to exercise black femininity and agency. Breaking down the whole composition into contrasting diptych parts and then breaking down these diptych parts into fragmented forms, allows the viewer to better understand how the body and narrative of the African American woman becomes furthered objectified. Sliced by the sharp crescent moon, the woman on the left turns into an upper-body fragment and a lower-body fragment divided by the moon’s unified shape. The moon sports a menacing smile that consumes the foreground of the photograph and seems to put the African American woman “in her place” in the background. She remains secondary to its presence, its whiteness, and perhaps even its masculinity, and thus, the portrait turns from personal to exploitative. A similar unpacking of narrative and body occurs with Horne on the right. Confined to the lower right corner of the photograph, Horne is split in half by the picture plane, as the viewer only sees the right side of her upper-body which, even then, by scale, proves subservient to the vast negative space of the background. She has been strategically cut from the frame, just like many of her song and dance scenes from films when they aired in the South. Essentially defaced, attention directs itself from her face to her single, open hand (quite different from the single, closed fist of Black Power) that rises from the base of the picture plane. Cuffed by a shimmering bracelet, the accessory rapidly changes from fashionable to fugitive, as it calls to the shackle and chain imagery of slavery. The fragmented body essentially becomes a backdrop onto which the struggle of representation and identity regarding the African American woman of the past, present, and future may be played.


At first glance, Lorna Simpson’s Backdrops Circa 1940s comes across as an innocent work, simply pairing two similarly styled Hollywood-esque photographs. However, upon further contextual and visual analysis, it is evident that the work confronts the repression of black femininity and agency by challenging a history of racial and gendered norms, from the 1940s to today. Simpson’s choice to use a diptych established an arena for the two vintage photographs to speak to each other, producing a narrative that underscored their similarities through contrast. The unknown, ordinary African American woman and famous, Hollywood star Lena Horne form a distinct visual relationship. Their fight for control over their own representation and identity pervades in the discussion of female fragmentation and form. How the unknown, ordinary African American woman in Backdrops Circa 1940s advocated for her racial and sexual freedom, we will never know, but that of Horne we do. At the age of 80 she eloquently reflected on her career, but more importantly, her internal representation, 

My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.


Figures



Figure 1: Lorna Simpson, Backdrops Circa 1940s, 1998. 



Works Referenced and Recommended Readings

Brooklyn Museum. “Exhibitions: Lorna Simpson: Gathered.” http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/lorna_simpson/. Accessed November 4, 2012.

Cotter, Holland. “Exploring Identity as a Problematic Condition.” New York Times, March 2, 2007. Accessed November 1, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/02/arts/design/02lorn.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1352815332-phvLqh9S8zydsX9FPZd2OQ.

Harmetz, Aljean. “Lena Horne, Singer and Actress, Dies at 92.” New York Times, May 10, 2010. Accessed November 1, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/arts/music/10horne.html?pagewanted=all.

Harris, Thomas Allen. “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographer and the Emergence of a People.” USA Projects. http://www.usaprojects.org/project/through_a_lens_darkly_black_photographers_and_the_emergence_of_a_people. Accessed November 4, 2012.

Rogers, Sarah J. Lorna Simpson: Interior/Exterior, Full/Empty. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 1997. 

Salon 94. “Lorna Simpson Biography.” http://lsimpsonstudio.com/biography.html. Accessed November 4, 2012.

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The Louisville Flood

On February 15, 1937, LIFE magazine ran a feature story on the record-breaking floods that swept through the Ohio River Valley in late January and early February that same year (http://life.time.com/behind-the-picture/the-american-way-photos-from-the-great-ohio-river-flood-of-1937/#1). The article focused on the structural damages and social despair that gripped one of the hardest-hit areas of the natural disaster, Louisville, Kentucky. A half-dozen photographs taken by the photographer (and Cornell University alumna) Margaret Bourke-White accompanied the spread, its most seminal photograph titled The Louisville Flood (Figure 1). Similarly to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother (http://watch.thirteen.org/video/2053414842/), Bourke-White’s The Louisville Flood remains an iconic image of the Great Depression, embodying an era that began with the stock market crash in 1929 and ended with the onslaughts of World War II in 1941 (Figure 2). Though Bourke-White would go on to become the first female war photojournalist, capturing poignant photographs of ravaged cities and Holocaust victims, it is her work completed here, at home in America, that brings forth a powerful narrative surrounding the intersection of class and race. The Louisville Flood explores the dichotomies of white and black, rich and poor, and their respective relationships to the American Dream through the visual lenses of scale, tonality, and gaze. Ultimately, in The Louisville Flood,Bourke-White challenges the “imaginary ideal” of the perfect white, middle class nuclear family by starkly contrasting it with the “real periphery” of the struggling African American community. 


Immediately after photographing the second presidential inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on January 20, 1937 in Washington, D.C., Bourke-White boarded a plane to Louisville on assignment for LIFE magazine to document the immense flooding that had devastated the area. From western Pennsylvania to southern Illinois, small towns and large cities drowned in astonishing waters with river levels rising as high as eighty feet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swdlzhjjgPQ)! By January 27, nearly seventy percent of Louisville was underwater, forcing approximately 175,000 individuals from their homes to relief shelters. One of these shelters, operated by the American Red Cross, was located near the intersection of 13th and Broadway: the very spot of Bourke-White’s The Louisville Flood. A broken breadline set against a blaring billboard provided a compelling composition for Bourke-White to challenge American economic and racial conditions.

The Louisville Flood divides into two strong horizontal registers with the blaring billboard occupying the top two-thirds of the photograph and the broken breadline occupying the bottom one-third of the photograph. The strategic camera frame used to capture this image emphasizes a hierarchy of scale: the detailed, larger-than-life depiction of the white, middle class family looms over the anonymous, compact mass of the struggling African American community. While the former actively drives ahead into an imaginary world of rolling green hills, the latter passively waits behind one another in a graphic reality of natural disaster. Unlike the white family who may steer its own direction and control its own destiny, the African Americans must depend on the food and water provisions of the relief shelter to simply stay alive. The white family, essentially representing the greater ideal of Americana, races down onto and compresses—or one may even claim oppresses—the queue of African Americans. The father-mother-son-daughter (and even pet terrier) unit embodies the American nuclear family, as outlined by countless hegemonic institutions, including magazine publications and advertising agencies. Produced by The National Association of Manufacturers, thousands of billboard scenes, like this one, aimed at spreading hope across the United States by advocating the American Dream and claiming, “There’s no way like the American Way!” However, as Bourke-White demonstrates in The Louisville Flood, these notions of autonomy and prosperity remained out-of-reach for many marginalized groups, specifically African Americans.


Besides scale, tonality—or the layering of dark and light or black and white—adds to the formal and symbolic agency of The Louisville Flood. Literally and figuratively, white characterizes the top and black characterizes the bottom of this composition, suggesting the very social stratum between these two groups regarding class and race. The shiny windshield, front hood, and rearview mirror of the car reflects and repeats, and therefore strengthens and propagates, the construct of the white, middle class nuclear family as the desired American vision. Set against a white stripe in a patriotic banner, a second slogan reads in bold capital text, “WORLD’S HIGHEST STANDARD OF LIVING.” Though this statement was intended for the white family pictured on the billboard, this background subject blurs with its foreground counterpart and ironically shifts the text’s reading to the African Americans. The United States may provide the “World’s Highest Standard of Living” for some, but clearly, not for all. The pearly-white smiles on the billboard sharply juxtapose the dark despair of the breadline. Light and dark, like white and black, stay in their respective visual registers and ultimately their respective social realms in The Louisville Flood.


Lastly, Bourke-White comments on the economic and social inequalities between class and race by capturing a spectrum of gazes in The Louisville Flood. While the white, middle class family looks optimistically outward, eyes consuming the vast and limitless horizon before them, the African Americans predominately direct their gazes to the periphery of the picture plane, to the physical relief station down the street and not to the imagined “American Way,” or American Dream, floating above them on the billboard. The African Americans cannot imagine a better future because they must concentrate on surviving the hardships of the present. A sense of desperate immediacy fills their countenances: one man, with his brim pulled low, anxiously glances over his shoulder; a woman, who clutches a basket, stares desolately into the distance; and then there are the children—a young boy and adolescent girl—who, unlike their white parallels on the billboard, will likely grow-up too fast because of harsh economic realities and racial injustices. Through the careful study of gazes, the impersonal repetition of overcoats and hats that comprises the breadline breaks down to reveal complex individuals with raw emotions. 

When Margaret Bourke-White arrived in Louisville in January 1937, she was given the key to the city before starting her work. Little did she know that decades later, her photographs would continue to unlock and open a dialogue surrounding the dichotomies of white and black and rich and poor. It is with little wonder that later creative geniuses, like the acclaimed musician Curtis Mayfield, employed the work of Bourke-White to continue to challenge the construct of the American Dream and its relationship to the underrepresented. Mayfield’s 1975 album There’s No Place Like America Today appropriates a mirror-image of The Louisville Flood for its cover (Figure 3). One of its hit songs, “Hard Times,” reads,

…Havin’ Hard Times in this crazy town

Havin’ Hard Times there’s no love to be found

From my body house I see like me another

Familiar face of creed and race and brother…

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvSfeanNFIM)

These lyrics spoke directly to the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s in the United States, but easily find root in and translate to Bourke-White’s The Louisville Flood. At its core, this renowned photograph criticizes the “imaginary ideal” by championing the “real periphery.” Until we acknowledge and appreciate underrepresented classes and races, the collective visual conscious of America will remain incomplete. 



Figures


Figure 1: Margaret Bourke-White, The Louisville Flood, 1937.




Figure 2: Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936.

Figure 3: Curtis Mayfield, There’s No Place Like America Today, 1975. 




Works Referenced and Recommended Readings

Bourke-White, Margaret. Portrait of Myself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963. 

Carner, Bill. “Louisville’s 1937 Flood: A 75th Anniversary Exhibition.” The Owl: A Newsletter for Employees of the University of Louisville Libraries, February 2012. Accessed November 2, 2012. http://owl.library.louisville.edu/2012/Owl0212.pdf.

Casto, James E. Images of America: The Great Ohio River Flood of 1937. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2009. 

Currell, Susan. The March of Spare Time: The Problem and Promise of Leisure on the Great Depression. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn. To Ask for an Equal Chance: African Americans in the Great Depression. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009.

Kozol, Wendy. LIFE’s America: Family and Nation in Postwar Journalism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.

McGovern, Charles F. Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890-1945. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006. 



Photo
Allie, Annie, Hannah and Berit, all 13, before the first big party of the seventh grade, Edina, Minnesota
Lauren Greenfield
Accession #: 2007.038.001
In 2006, a documentary called Thin about the struggles of women with eating disorders aired on HBO. The film was part of a larger project directing attention towards the negative pressures women feel in contemporary American society in regards to their physicality. At the time of the film’s release the filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield, was already a recognized photographer. Her work was hailed as groundbreaking, the Girl Culture project originally published as a book emanated into a traveling exhibition “seen by over 775,000 people in 25 venues around the world up until 2010”(laurengreenfield.com). Girl Culture reflects Lauren Greenfield’s life mission. In her artist’s statement “Mirror, Mirror…” Lauren Greenfield writes, “Girl Culture has been my journey as a photographer, as an observer of culture, as part of the media, as a media critic, as a woman, as a girl.”
In 1987, Greenfield graduated from Harvard.  She started out as an intern for National Geographic, but since 1991, she has published photographs in Time, Vanity Fair, People, National Geographic, The New Yorker, ELLE, and many others. She published her first book, Fast Forward in 1997 then in 2002 she published Girl Culture, and in 2006 alongside her documentary released a book by the same name Thin.  In 2008, she directed a short film called Kids + Money. In regards to all of these works, Greenfield explains her main objective, “what I was trying to talk about was the way the body has become the primary expression of identity for girls and women,” (laurengreenfield.com).
One photograph featured in her book Girl Culture is Alli, Annie, Hannah and Berit, all 13, before the first big party of the seventh grade, Edina, Minnesota. It presents four young girls in make-up and party dresses, posing together for the camera. They appear to be about 18, though they are only preteens. Like many other works in this book, Greenfield includes a statement, this one by one of the girls in the photo: Hannah.  I think it is necessary to juxtapose Hannah’s statement with that of the artist’s. The image we see is a representation of Hannah, her personality, and her friends. Hannah’s words are a representation of the particular pathology that Greenfield wants to explore. Together, they function to reinforce the issues we deal with in terms of this work and this work’s connection to our exhibition.
Hannah, 13 years old
I spent about three hours getting ready [for the party]. We got our hair done and our makeup done and got our outfits finished and hung out for the rest of the time. We all consulted each other and decided what look would be better. I helped everybody with their hair because I’m good at it. I did everyone’s makeup, too.
Whether you think clothes are important sort of places you in a group. Our group has their own kind of fashion. We shop at about six different stores, and we all keep up with the trends.
Our group tends to wear a lot more makeup than other people. I don’t want to look trashy. I try to look natural. When I was getting ready, I was wondering if I should spend a long time worrying about my hair or if I should just put it up and not care, because I knew by the end of the night it wouldn’t matter. And with my makeup, it was the same deal. Should I spend a long time on it? Would it be all blended in by the end of the night? Would it really matter? 
At our school, being popular is, for a girl, looking the best, having the best clothes, being liked by a lot of the guys. And for the guys, it’s being kind of the “jack,” having a whole bunch of girls chasing after you. 
I’m not exactly sure about the group of friends I’m in right now. Sometimes our friends can be really, really mean. In our group, people get criticized if you don’t look a certain way. If you have a flaw, then you will be criticized whether you like it or not. 
I’ve been approached by people who think I’m older. Maybe because of the makeup, the way I dress, and, generally, the way I look. I might look older than I actually am, but underneath it all, I’m only thirteen. It’s kind of scary. It’s a hard feeling to not know where you fit in yet.
                                                                                          -Girl Culture 

In this work, I have been drawn to the pathological in the everyday. I am interested in the tyranny of the popular and thin girls over the ones who don’t fit that mold. I am interested in the competition suffered by the popular girls, and their sense that being popular is not as satisfying as it appears. I am interested in the costly and time-consuming beauty rituals that are an integral part of daily life. I am interested in the fact that to fall outside the ideal body type is to be a modern-day pariah. I am interested in how girls’ feelings of frustration, anger, and sadness are expressed in physical and self-destructive ways: controlling their food intake, cutting their bodies, being sexually promiscuous. Most of all, I am interested in the element of performance and exhibitionism that seems to define the contemporary experience of being a girl. 
                                                -Lauren Greenfield
“Mirror, Mirror…”- Artist Statement in Girl Culture

The photo was taken in 1998. During this time, Bill Clinton is in office, Internet usage is surging, and cell phones are very much a part of our lives. Britney Spears is about to hit center stage, while the Hanson Brothers are already on wall posters in the bedrooms of teen girls. Today the subjects in this photo will be about 27 years old, but their early adolescence has been preserved forever thanks to Greenfield’s photography. This photo brings to the surface the concept of the popular girls, the ones that supposedly represent the ideal of the mainstream. However, being the center of attention backfires. Hannah discusses the negative feelings that come from the stage of life she is in. Though she may look mature, she is still a child with the insecurities of a child in an adult world. Superficially, she represents the center, but pathologically she is the margin in the sense that her pathology is not the center of attention. Her true insecurities are not open for dialogue quite yet; they are ignored, masked by the exterior, the modern female persona. Lauren Greenfield uses the superficial to expose the underlining reality that girls in this American society face.
            Lauren Greenfield’s stylistic approach to her art contributes to the issues she addresses. She is able to incite dialogue because her colorful images evoke a stark reaction. They resemble images we see in the media, imitating the styles of pop culture. Through her usage of dramatic color, bright and varied, she shows us images that seem glitzy, busy, and confused. Her color excites the viewer, catches their attention in order to entice them to really look at the images, to think critically about what they see. 
Greenfield is able to penetrate the mainstream because first she presents her subjects in this light. Then she uses her subjects as an intermediary of sorts. We see others imitate pop culture, others much like ourselves, and so perhaps we can see ourselves also in pop culture. As a result, we can recognize the irony, or the complications that arise from this desire to be portrayed and perceived in such a culture. Though nobody says it better than the artist herself:

There are girls and women in my photographs whom viewers may see as marginal or whose lives may be perceived as extreme. In effect, the popular culture has caused the ordinary to become inextricably intertwined with what to many seems extraordinary. Most girls are familiar with “marginal” experiences from television, magazines, and music. A suburban teenager says she would like to become an exotic dancer. A prepubescent girl mimics the sexualized moves and revealing clothing that she sees on MTV. Understanding the dialectic between the extreme and the mainstream—the anorexic and the dieter, the stripper and the teenager who bares her midriff or wears a thong—is essential to understanding contemporary feminine identity.
The body has become the primary canvas on which girls express their identities, insecurities, ambitions, and struggles. It has become a palimpsest on which many of our culture’s conflicting messages about femininity are written and rewritten.
                                    -Lauren Greenfield
On one hand it may seem arbitrary to pose the feminine as a margin in society since it seems that media is obsessed with following women, that mainstream is designed around women. Women are targeted as main subjects and receivers of our gaze. It is ironic in a sense that the most looked at subject may perhaps also be the most overlooked subject. Can we then use Kimberly’s idea that we can use this ambiguous relationship between the center and the periphery to reshape our understanding of the world?
            I think this piece has a place in our exhibit if we want to shift the object of our gaze. In other words, I am hoping that Greenfield’s design works to draw the viewer in, and reveals the underlining meaning. At first glance, the photograph seems to reinforce the issues that Greenfield confronts. It seems to portray young adolescent girls as acceptable targets for hyper-sexuality. It may seem to portray these young girls as active agents in constructing the sexualized culture they live in, and in some ways not only do they embrace this culture but prosper in it. When we stop to look at the image and read the title alongside Hannah’s statement then hopefully we are able to reconsider the implications of this photo. Hopefully, the viewer can think about how this culture has intruded on and/or complicated childhood. When we talk about the margins of society, we should consider the young and impressionable, those with exasperated insecurities and undermined pathologies. 
 
Works Cited
 
"Lauren Greenfield." Photography. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. 
&lt;http://www.laurengreenfield.com/index.php?p=RMCD4CNH&gt;.
*taken from her biography page on her artist profile website.
 
Greenfield, Lauren. &#8220;Girl Culture.&#8221; Time. Time, 04 Nov. 2002. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. 
&lt;http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2042670_2042639_2042646,00.html&gt;.
 
Greenfield, Lauren. Girl Culture. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle, 2002. Print.
 
Saroyan, Strawberry. &#8220;The Kids Stay in the Pictures.&#8221; Lauren Greenfield Photography. 
02138 Magazine, 2006. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. 
&lt;http://www.laurengreenfield.com/index.php?p=UNW5OHGQ&gt;.

Allie, Annie, Hannah and Berit, all 13, before the first big party of the seventh grade, Edina, Minnesota

Lauren Greenfield

Accession #: 2007.038.001

In 2006, a documentary called Thin about the struggles of women with eating disorders aired on HBO. The film was part of a larger project directing attention towards the negative pressures women feel in contemporary American society in regards to their physicality. At the time of the film’s release the filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield, was already a recognized photographer. Her work was hailed as groundbreaking, the Girl Culture project originally published as a book emanated into a traveling exhibition “seen by over 775,000 people in 25 venues around the world up until 2010”(laurengreenfield.com). Girl Culture reflects Lauren Greenfield’s life mission. In her artist’s statement “Mirror, Mirror…” Lauren Greenfield writes, “Girl Culture has been my journey as a photographer, as an observer of culture, as part of the media, as a media critic, as a woman, as a girl.”

In 1987, Greenfield graduated from Harvard.  She started out as an intern for National Geographic, but since 1991, she has published photographs in Time, Vanity Fair, People, National Geographic, The New Yorker, ELLE, and many others. She published her first book, Fast Forward in 1997 then in 2002 she published Girl Culture, and in 2006 alongside her documentary released a book by the same name Thin.  In 2008, she directed a short film called Kids + Money. In regards to all of these works, Greenfield explains her main objective, “what I was trying to talk about was the way the body has become the primary expression of identity for girls and women,” (laurengreenfield.com).

One photograph featured in her book Girl Culture is Alli, Annie, Hannah and Berit, all 13, before the first big party of the seventh grade, Edina, Minnesota. It presents four young girls in make-up and party dresses, posing together for the camera. They appear to be about 18, though they are only preteens. Like many other works in this book, Greenfield includes a statement, this one by one of the girls in the photo: Hannah.  I think it is necessary to juxtapose Hannah’s statement with that of the artist’s. The image we see is a representation of Hannah, her personality, and her friends. Hannah’s words are a representation of the particular pathology that Greenfield wants to explore. Together, they function to reinforce the issues we deal with in terms of this work and this work’s connection to our exhibition.

Hannah, 13 years old

I spent about three hours getting ready [for the party]. We got our hair done and our makeup done and got our outfits finished and hung out for the rest of the time. We all consulted each other and decided what look would be better. I helped everybody with their hair because I’m good at it. I did everyone’s makeup, too.

Whether you think clothes are important sort of places you in a group. Our group has their own kind of fashion. We shop at about six different stores, and we all keep up with the trends.

Our group tends to wear a lot more makeup than other people. I don’t want to look trashy. I try to look natural. When I was getting ready, I was wondering if I should spend a long time worrying about my hair or if I should just put it up and not care, because I knew by the end of the night it wouldn’t matter. And with my makeup, it was the same deal. Should I spend a long time on it? Would it be all blended in by the end of the night? Would it really matter?

At our school, being popular is, for a girl, looking the best, having the best clothes, being liked by a lot of the guys. And for the guys, it’s being kind of the “jack,” having a whole bunch of girls chasing after you.

I’m not exactly sure about the group of friends I’m in right now. Sometimes our friends can be really, really mean. In our group, people get criticized if you don’t look a certain way. If you have a flaw, then you will be criticized whether you like it or not.

I’ve been approached by people who think I’m older. Maybe because of the makeup, the way I dress, and, generally, the way I look. I might look older than I actually am, but underneath it all, I’m only thirteen. It’s kind of scary. It’s a hard feeling to not know where you fit in yet.

                                                                                          -Girl Culture

In this work, I have been drawn to the pathological in the everyday. I am interested in the tyranny of the popular and thin girls over the ones who don’t fit that mold. I am interested in the competition suffered by the popular girls, and their sense that being popular is not as satisfying as it appears. I am interested in the costly and time-consuming beauty rituals that are an integral part of daily life. I am interested in the fact that to fall outside the ideal body type is to be a modern-day pariah. I am interested in how girls’ feelings of frustration, anger, and sadness are expressed in physical and self-destructive ways: controlling their food intake, cutting their bodies, being sexually promiscuous. Most of all, I am interested in the element of performance and exhibitionism that seems to define the contemporary experience of being a girl.

                                                -Lauren Greenfield

“Mirror, Mirror…”- Artist Statement in Girl Culture

The photo was taken in 1998. During this time, Bill Clinton is in office, Internet usage is surging, and cell phones are very much a part of our lives. Britney Spears is about to hit center stage, while the Hanson Brothers are already on wall posters in the bedrooms of teen girls. Today the subjects in this photo will be about 27 years old, but their early adolescence has been preserved forever thanks to Greenfield’s photography. This photo brings to the surface the concept of the popular girls, the ones that supposedly represent the ideal of the mainstream. However, being the center of attention backfires. Hannah discusses the negative feelings that come from the stage of life she is in. Though she may look mature, she is still a child with the insecurities of a child in an adult world. Superficially, she represents the center, but pathologically she is the margin in the sense that her pathology is not the center of attention. Her true insecurities are not open for dialogue quite yet; they are ignored, masked by the exterior, the modern female persona. Lauren Greenfield uses the superficial to expose the underlining reality that girls in this American society face.

            Lauren Greenfield’s stylistic approach to her art contributes to the issues she addresses. She is able to incite dialogue because her colorful images evoke a stark reaction. They resemble images we see in the media, imitating the styles of pop culture. Through her usage of dramatic color, bright and varied, she shows us images that seem glitzy, busy, and confused. Her color excites the viewer, catches their attention in order to entice them to really look at the images, to think critically about what they see.

Greenfield is able to penetrate the mainstream because first she presents her subjects in this light. Then she uses her subjects as an intermediary of sorts. We see others imitate pop culture, others much like ourselves, and so perhaps we can see ourselves also in pop culture. As a result, we can recognize the irony, or the complications that arise from this desire to be portrayed and perceived in such a culture. Though nobody says it better than the artist herself:

There are girls and women in my photographs whom viewers may see as marginal or whose lives may be perceived as extreme. In effect, the popular culture has caused the ordinary to become inextricably intertwined with what to many seems extraordinary. Most girls are familiar with “marginal” experiences from television, magazines, and music. A suburban teenager says she would like to become an exotic dancer. A prepubescent girl mimics the sexualized moves and revealing clothing that she sees on MTV. Understanding the dialectic between the extreme and the mainstream—the anorexic and the dieter, the stripper and the teenager who bares her midriff or wears a thong—is essential to understanding contemporary feminine identity.

The body has become the primary canvas on which girls express their identities, insecurities, ambitions, and struggles. It has become a palimpsest on which many of our culture’s conflicting messages about femininity are written and rewritten.

                                    -Lauren Greenfield

On one hand it may seem arbitrary to pose the feminine as a margin in society since it seems that media is obsessed with following women, that mainstream is designed around women. Women are targeted as main subjects and receivers of our gaze. It is ironic in a sense that the most looked at subject may perhaps also be the most overlooked subject. Can we then use Kimberly’s idea that we can use this ambiguous relationship between the center and the periphery to reshape our understanding of the world?

            I think this piece has a place in our exhibit if we want to shift the object of our gaze. In other words, I am hoping that Greenfield’s design works to draw the viewer in, and reveals the underlining meaning. At first glance, the photograph seems to reinforce the issues that Greenfield confronts. It seems to portray young adolescent girls as acceptable targets for hyper-sexuality. It may seem to portray these young girls as active agents in constructing the sexualized culture they live in, and in some ways not only do they embrace this culture but prosper in it. When we stop to look at the image and read the title alongside Hannah’s statement then hopefully we are able to reconsider the implications of this photo. Hopefully, the viewer can think about how this culture has intruded on and/or complicated childhood. When we talk about the margins of society, we should consider the young and impressionable, those with exasperated insecurities and undermined pathologies.

 

Works Cited

 

"Lauren Greenfield." Photography. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2012.

<http://www.laurengreenfield.com/index.php?p=RMCD4CNH>.

*taken from her biography page on her artist profile website.

 

Greenfield, Lauren. “Girl Culture.” Time. Time, 04 Nov. 2002. Web. 06 Nov. 2012.

<http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2042670_2042639_2042646,00.html>.

 

Greenfield, Lauren. Girl Culture. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle, 2002. Print.

 

Saroyan, Strawberry. “The Kids Stay in the Pictures.” Lauren Greenfield Photography.

02138 Magazine, 2006. Web. 06 Nov. 2012.

<http://www.laurengreenfield.com/index.php?p=UNW5OHGQ>.


Photo
IRT 2, South Bronx, New York City, 1979
Danny Lyon
Accession #: 83.125.001.030

Danny Lyon is a man of his times. He was born in Brooklyn in 1942. Throughout the 1960s he played an active role in the Civil Rights Movement. He was the first staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1962 he was jailed alongside fellow protestors in Albany, GA- he was in the cell next to Martin Luther King Jr. He is a self-taught artist, though received a BA from the University of Chicago in 1973. 

            He is characterized as eccentric, uncompromising, and deeply rooted in his projects. The compilation of photographs in his first book “Bikeriders” was the product of immersing himself in the culture he was documenting.

According to journalist Randy Kennedy of The New York Times, for Danny Lyon “ spending more than two years as a member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, was not just a pioneering example of New Journalism but, as he later described it, an attempt “to destroy Life magazine” and what he saw as its anodyne vision of American life.”

            Perhaps this approach is evident in his later works. The photograph we are considering is not a product of the 60s, but comes in the decade after: IRT 2, South Bronx, New York City, 1979. As the title indicates, this photo was taken circa 1979 (actually in 1978, but published in 1979) on a subway in South Bronx, New York City.  It seems that this photograph is not one depicting an ideal scenario; it does not hail the modernization of the city via public transit. It does not show the passengers as active, enthusiastic and/or satisfied participants American post-industrialized society. What it does show is two women slouched in their seats inside a graffiti-infested subway cart, which is not an “anodyne vision of American life”. 

The photo was taken in 1978, published in 1979. About this time, Jimmy Carter is president. Disco is at its peak. We are still in the Cold War. In a town not too far from the South Bronx, the EPA and the Administration recognize the hazards of Love Canal. This is a few years after the cessation of the Black Power movement, and yet race remains a tense issue in the US at the time of this photo. The South Bronx is an unappealing neighborhood for white middle class families. It is a center for drug use, plummeting property values, and failing public schools. This photo was taken prior to the urban renewal movement of the 1980s.

The two subjects are two young women. Their race is ambiguous, there socio-economic class perhaps not so ambiguous. After all, they are taking public transit and they are in the South Bronx. They are surrounded by graffiti, an icon of gang presence, crime, and poverty. Their clothes are modest looking; they do not reflect the glitzy fashion of their day. Except for the high-waisted jean shorts one subject wears, their clothes do not give away their era. There clothes are apart of the mise en scene, so is the cart they sit in- all of these things in a way are timeless. The idea that this could be considered a classic photo speaks to the issue that poverty, gang culture, and disgruntled minorities are all very much a part of today’s American society as it was in the late 1970s.   

The photograph is a gelatin silver print, black and white. The style and form of the photograph, lacking color, restricted to the black-grey-white scale is a contributing factor to the ambiguity of race. All we can really tell for sure is that these two women are not white, or at least what we perceive white to look like. Furthermore, Danny Lyon’s choice in subject is peculiar, different from the sensationalized images we we in the media. The circumstances of his subjects are so ordinary; they are riding the subway like many do. However, Danny Lyon uses this as an opportunity to capture a common part of these subjects’ lives and turn it into a crucial point for discussion.  

In considering the relevance this photograph has to Danny Lyon’s mission and the mission of our exhibition we should first look at how the piece works formally. The subject to our left is confrontational; she looks directly into the camera, directly at us. She matches our gaze, a mirror image of the viewer, perhaps in contempt of the viewer- the voyeur, the intruder. Due to the framing of the photo we the viewers are situated in the subway cart, perhaps sitting in the seat across from these two subjects. We are nosy observers, minding the business of these two subjects rather than minding our own. They both seem to be perturbed by something, maybe it is their station in society, maybe at our incessant stares, or maybe nothing at all. 

We must then drag our gaze away from the confrontational subject over to the preoccupied one. She is wearing a sweatshirt and track shorts. Her arms are crossed, her body language overall suggesting that she is unreceptive to any approaches.  Does she know the girl next to her, are they related? We assume there is some familiarity between the two even though they do not engage with one another. They must share common experiences, only from what we see can we tell that their one shared experience at least is that of riding the subway. Their bodies appear still in this shot, though we can deduce that the subway could be in motion. Photography works in such a way that it captures moments, freezes them in space and time. This is the power that the photographer and his apparatus hold. Danny Lyon is able to use his camera to extract the tension inside this cart and post it up for all to see, to re-experience.

I wanted to include Danny Lyon’s photograph in our show because it represents the heart of his mission as well as our own mission. In a NYT article, Randy Kennedy ascribes that “as a photographer and filmmaker, Lyon has shown insight into the worlds of those who live outside the mainstream of society.” In his works we see bikers, prisoners, and minorities. These are the groups that remain absent in mainstream American representations. These are the groups that are perceived as confrontational, subversive, and therefore undesirable. Some of these images are conflicted; through Lyon’s framing these are aesthetic pictures. Though the content, for numerous reasons, have an unappealing aspect. At first glance these are beautiful images, take a longer look and the viewer suffers from unsettling side effects. Danny Lyon redirects our focus towards the “periphery”.  We are given a photograph that shows us two underrepresented subjects in an overlooked location. We must rethink poverty; we must rethink race, gender, locale, culture, community, individuality, etc. Maybe we rethink these issues by acknowledging our personal relationship to the issues. We connect with the one subject in the photo because she returns our gaze. We connect with the experience of both because Danny Lyon puts our point of view inside the cart, as though we ride the subway too.  He puts us at eye level with the other passengers as though we sit near them, close enough to see the texture of their clothes and the shine on their faces. We can put ourselves in the position of these passengers, and yet we can step back and see them abstracted in space and time. 

This abstraction is important because as I said before, this image, thanks to the black and white aesthetic and the lack of trend in their outfits, is timeless- we can see this image as taking place today, perhaps we can anticipate seeing these two women on the next subway ride.  This is such an ordinary circumstance that has somehow been reinterpreted into a spectacle of sorts, but not in a way that spectacle loses all meaning, but in the way that spectacle attracts our attention and takes on a personal meaning for the viewer.  

 
Peripheral Visions in Focus

Objects in the periphery of the visual field are as critical to our understanding of our world, as those in its center. Unfortunately, we do not use the information in the periphery to our advantage.  How does turning our gaze from the center to the periphery affect our understanding of our world? What happens when the center recedes to the periphery? Is it possible to refract light to a wider range of our field of vision or is the construct of the center an unavoidable prism that requires periodic adjustment?

- Kimberly Cornish (Oct. 31)

















 Works Cited

 

Kennedy, Randy. The New York Times Apr. 2009, New York ed., AR1 sec.: n. pag. 

Web.&lt;http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/arts/design/26kenn.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=1&amp;&gt;.

 

"Museum of Contemporary Photography." : Artworks. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. 

&lt;http://collections.mocp.org/detail.php?type=related&gt;

IRT 2, South Bronx, New York City, 1979

Danny Lyon

Accession #: 83.125.001.030

Danny Lyon is a man of his times. He was born in Brooklyn in 1942. Throughout the 1960s he played an active role in the Civil Rights Movement. He was the first staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1962 he was jailed alongside fellow protestors in Albany, GA- he was in the cell next to Martin Luther King Jr. He is a self-taught artist, though received a BA from the University of Chicago in 1973.

            He is characterized as eccentric, uncompromising, and deeply rooted in his projects. The compilation of photographs in his first book “Bikeriders” was the product of immersing himself in the culture he was documenting.

According to journalist Randy Kennedy of The New York Times, for Danny Lyon “ spending more than two years as a member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, was not just a pioneering example of New Journalism but, as he later described it, an attempt “to destroy Life magazine” and what he saw as its anodyne vision of American life.”

            Perhaps this approach is evident in his later works. The photograph we are considering is not a product of the 60s, but comes in the decade after: IRT 2, South Bronx, New York City, 1979. As the title indicates, this photo was taken circa 1979 (actually in 1978, but published in 1979) on a subway in South Bronx, New York City.  It seems that this photograph is not one depicting an ideal scenario; it does not hail the modernization of the city via public transit. It does not show the passengers as active, enthusiastic and/or satisfied participants American post-industrialized society. What it does show is two women slouched in their seats inside a graffiti-infested subway cart, which is not an “anodyne vision of American life”.

The photo was taken in 1978, published in 1979. About this time, Jimmy Carter is president. Disco is at its peak. We are still in the Cold War. In a town not too far from the South Bronx, the EPA and the Administration recognize the hazards of Love Canal. This is a few years after the cessation of the Black Power movement, and yet race remains a tense issue in the US at the time of this photo. The South Bronx is an unappealing neighborhood for white middle class families. It is a center for drug use, plummeting property values, and failing public schools. This photo was taken prior to the urban renewal movement of the 1980s.

The two subjects are two young women. Their race is ambiguous, there socio-economic class perhaps not so ambiguous. After all, they are taking public transit and they are in the South Bronx. They are surrounded by graffiti, an icon of gang presence, crime, and poverty. Their clothes are modest looking; they do not reflect the glitzy fashion of their day. Except for the high-waisted jean shorts one subject wears, their clothes do not give away their era. There clothes are apart of the mise en scene, so is the cart they sit in- all of these things in a way are timeless. The idea that this could be considered a classic photo speaks to the issue that poverty, gang culture, and disgruntled minorities are all very much a part of today’s American society as it was in the late 1970s.   

The photograph is a gelatin silver print, black and white. The style and form of the photograph, lacking color, restricted to the black-grey-white scale is a contributing factor to the ambiguity of race. All we can really tell for sure is that these two women are not white, or at least what we perceive white to look like. Furthermore, Danny Lyon’s choice in subject is peculiar, different from the sensationalized images we we in the media. The circumstances of his subjects are so ordinary; they are riding the subway like many do. However, Danny Lyon uses this as an opportunity to capture a common part of these subjects’ lives and turn it into a crucial point for discussion.  

In considering the relevance this photograph has to Danny Lyon’s mission and the mission of our exhibition we should first look at how the piece works formally. The subject to our left is confrontational; she looks directly into the camera, directly at us. She matches our gaze, a mirror image of the viewer, perhaps in contempt of the viewer- the voyeur, the intruder. Due to the framing of the photo we the viewers are situated in the subway cart, perhaps sitting in the seat across from these two subjects. We are nosy observers, minding the business of these two subjects rather than minding our own. They both seem to be perturbed by something, maybe it is their station in society, maybe at our incessant stares, or maybe nothing at all.

We must then drag our gaze away from the confrontational subject over to the preoccupied one. She is wearing a sweatshirt and track shorts. Her arms are crossed, her body language overall suggesting that she is unreceptive to any approaches.  Does she know the girl next to her, are they related? We assume there is some familiarity between the two even though they do not engage with one another. They must share common experiences, only from what we see can we tell that their one shared experience at least is that of riding the subway. Their bodies appear still in this shot, though we can deduce that the subway could be in motion. Photography works in such a way that it captures moments, freezes them in space and time. This is the power that the photographer and his apparatus hold. Danny Lyon is able to use his camera to extract the tension inside this cart and post it up for all to see, to re-experience.

I wanted to include Danny Lyon’s photograph in our show because it represents the heart of his mission as well as our own mission. In a NYT article, Randy Kennedy ascribes that “as a photographer and filmmaker, Lyon has shown insight into the worlds of those who live outside the mainstream of society.” In his works we see bikers, prisoners, and minorities. These are the groups that remain absent in mainstream American representations. These are the groups that are perceived as confrontational, subversive, and therefore undesirable. Some of these images are conflicted; through Lyon’s framing these are aesthetic pictures. Though the content, for numerous reasons, have an unappealing aspect. At first glance these are beautiful images, take a longer look and the viewer suffers from unsettling side effects. Danny Lyon redirects our focus towards the “periphery”.  We are given a photograph that shows us two underrepresented subjects in an overlooked location. We must rethink poverty; we must rethink race, gender, locale, culture, community, individuality, etc. Maybe we rethink these issues by acknowledging our personal relationship to the issues. We connect with the one subject in the photo because she returns our gaze. We connect with the experience of both because Danny Lyon puts our point of view inside the cart, as though we ride the subway too.  He puts us at eye level with the other passengers as though we sit near them, close enough to see the texture of their clothes and the shine on their faces. We can put ourselves in the position of these passengers, and yet we can step back and see them abstracted in space and time.

This abstraction is important because as I said before, this image, thanks to the black and white aesthetic and the lack of trend in their outfits, is timeless- we can see this image as taking place today, perhaps we can anticipate seeing these two women on the next subway ride.  This is such an ordinary circumstance that has somehow been reinterpreted into a spectacle of sorts, but not in a way that spectacle loses all meaning, but in the way that spectacle attracts our attention and takes on a personal meaning for the viewer.  

 

Peripheral Visions in Focus

Objects in the periphery of the visual field are as critical to our understanding of our world, as those in its center. Unfortunately, we do not use the information in the periphery to our advantage.  How does turning our gaze from the center to the periphery affect our understanding of our world? What happens when the center recedes to the periphery? Is it possible to refract light to a wider range of our field of vision or is the construct of the center an unavoidable prism that requires periodic adjustment?

- Kimberly Cornish (Oct. 31)

 Works Cited

 

Kennedy, Randy. The New York Times Apr. 2009, New York ed., AR1 sec.: n. pag.

Web.<http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/arts/design/26kenn.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&>.

 

"Museum of Contemporary Photography." : Artworks. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2012.

<http://collections.mocp.org/detail.php?type=related>

Photo
Margaret Bourke White: Photo-Journalist
When we look at any work of art, it is vital that we understand the background of the work and the intention of the artist in order to interpret the work. I feel this is most important in photography, a medium that has long been seen as factual unbiased documentation. However, the photographer makes a number of decisions throughout the process, from subject to framing and staging to developing, that must be considered as filters between the event or moment photographed and the ultimate viewer. We must understand the person behind the camera in order to understand the photograph. The photo “Margaret Bourke-White in high altitude flying gear” undoubtedly makes a strong statement about diversity once we consider the life and career of the artist. Margaret Bourke-White was a photographer and photo-journalist who performed a number of tremendous firsts and broke down barriers for women in both fields. She began as a photographer for advertisements in New York and went through several professional reincarnations throughout her career, from portrait photographer during the depression to photo-journalist during World War II.[1] Unlike many other photographers at the time she was consistently able to find funding for her projects, working as a successful commercial photographer during the Great Depression. Her photos appeared in Fortune and Life magazines throughout the Great Depression and World War II. Additionally, “Bourke-White popularized the vocation of photo-journalism itself by writing several books that combined autobiography, commentary on topical issues, and photographs.”[2] Her writing came second to the photographs she took, but through lectures and writing she worked out her impressions of what she witnessed. She was both the first woman to be accredited as a war photographer by the U.S. Armed Forces and the first woman ever allowed to fly on a combat mission.[3] She photographed influential leaders such as Patton, Churchill and Josef Stalin, the latter at a time when no foreign photographers were given access. She was the most widely-acclaimed female journalist of the era, an image that gave her unprecedented access throughout her career. “Constructing herself was one of Bourke-White’s most stellar achievements.”[4]
Bourke-White began working for Life in 1936 when the photo magazine first started, and continued to contribute photographs for several decades. In the early years she focused mainly on industrial and architectural subjects, but that changed with the outbreak of World War II. She was sent to Russia a mere month before hostilities began between the USSR and Germany. To a certain extent she was in the right place at the right time, acting on a hunch of Wilson Hicks, the picture editor at Life. But she showed remarkable resilience and dedication to her craft during the air raids on Moscow. During this time she provided Life with exclusive coverage of the eastern front as the only foreign photographer present in Russia at a time when photography by foreigners was forbidden.[5] It was during her time in Russia that Bourke-White realized a moral imperative in her work, and that “her photographs could serve a purpose beyond their immediate utility as advertising shots.”[6] Shortly after returning to the United States, she requested another European assignment from Life, this time in conjunction with the US Armed Forces and the Pentagon. In her autobiography Portrait of Myself Bourke-White described her accreditation to photograph the US Army Air Force: “My accreditation was a unique one, as war photographer directly assigned to the Air Force, with the Pentagon as well as Life using my pictures. I was allowed to do everything I required to build up my picture story […] except the one thing that really counted. I was not allowed to go on an actual combat mission.”[7] That would change in North Africa.
Bourke-White was authorized to accompany an air raid over Tunis in North Africa in January 1943. She was the first woman ever to fly with a U.S. combat crew over enemy soil.[8] Along with the airmen carrying out the mission, she found out only the morning of the raid that they would be targeting the El Auina airfield at Tunis where a number of enemy planes sat awaiting their own missions. It was the air raid that pushed the Luftwaffe off the African continent; Bourke-White was present for and documented yet another pivotal moment in the war.
The photo “Margaret Bourke-White in high altitude flying gear” appeared in the March 1, 1943 issue of Life under the heading “Life’s Bourke-White Goes Bombing.” The photo in the magazine appears to have been taken mere seconds after the one in our exhibition, once Bourke-White had taken off her helmet. The subsequent photo essay documented the entire mission from strategy meetings to troop briefing, loading bombs on the planes and of course the flight itself. There were also annotated maps giving readers a better idea of where the mission occurred. The photo in the exhibition was taken while preparing for the bombing raid, performing dress rehearsals in full high altitude gear to make absolutely sure Bourke-White would be able to get the photos she needed during the air raid. Naturally she wanted to make the most of this unprecedented opportunity. In the photo, she is holding one of the K-20 military cameras loaned to her by the Air Force. They lent her a total of three cameras: one smaller Speed Graphic for photos of the crew inside the plane and two K-20s for aerial photographs. The K-20 was an Army airplane camera built of rigid metal to withstand the vibration of the plane.[9] She had lost most of her own cameras when her ship was torpedoed on the way to North Africa. She stands in front of a B-17 Flying Fortress, possibly the one in which she took her historic flight. She wears a high-altitude flying suit that was undoubtedly designed for a man, as no other woman had needed one before. This photo is an important document of Bourke-White’s many achievements. However it is a veritable work of art past being a factual historical document. Bourke-White looks up and out of the frame rather than confronting the camera directly, giving the image an aspirational and ascendant atmosphere. Further, the textures of the high-altitude suit and the plane are juxtaposed beautifully against the clear sky.
The photos taken by Bourke-White and published by Life during World War II served vital informational ends on the home-front, as well as providing the Pentagon with material. Bourke-White was present for and photographed many pivotal events in World War II, giving the people at home much-needed information. In a way, she made it more real for them. As a war photo-journalist Bourke-White served a noble mission, even if we do not consider all the firsts she achieved for women. With the consideration of her gender, her achievements are positively inspirational.
Margaret Bourke-White’s ambition, artistry and need for adventure made her one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, irrespective of gender. The self-portrait included in the exhibition is a major example of her many breakthroughs and firsts in the field of photo-journalism during World War II. Not only was she the first female war correspondent, with the first uniform for a woman war correspondent designed for her in 1942.[10] She also amazed soldiers with her willingness to sleep in foxholes and absolute dedication to her craft. She saw a great moral imperative in the work she did during the war. Bourke-White saw it as her obligation to the people at home to report what she saw, however difficult the subjects. As a result of her persistence and tenacity, although “the number of women photographing on battle fronts was miniscule, […] the barrier against their covering war had been irreparably breached.”[11] She was a strong figure with a strong ego and personality, enabling her to forge a new path for women that had never been attempted before.

http://books.google.com/books?id=WlEEAAAAMBAJ&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=gbs_ge_summary_r&amp;cad=0#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false

[1] Bourke-White, Margaret, and Sean Callahan. Margaret Bourke-White: Photographer. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. p. 102


[2] Rosenblum, Naomi. A History of Women Photographers. Paris: Abbeville Press, 1994. p. 185


[3] Bourke-White, Margaret, and Sean Callahan. Margaret Bourke-White: Photographer. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998 p. 105


[4] McEuen, Melissa A. Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2000. p. 224


[5] Bourke-White, Margaret, and Sean Callahan. Margaret Bourke-White: Photographer. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. p. 102


[6] McEuen, Melissa. Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2000. p. 219


[7] Bourke-White, Margaret. Portrait of Myself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963. p. 202


[8] Bourke-White, Margaret. &#8220;Life&#8217;s Bourke-White Goes Bombing.&#8221; Life 1 Mar. 1943: 17


[9] Bourke-White, Margaret. Portrait of Myself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963. p. 223


[10] Bourke-White, Margaret. Portrait of Myself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963. p. 197


[11] Rosenblum, Naomi. A History of Women Photographers. Paris: Abbeville Press, 1994. p. 184

Margaret Bourke White: Photo-Journalist

When we look at any work of art, it is vital that we understand the background of the work and the intention of the artist in order to interpret the work. I feel this is most important in photography, a medium that has long been seen as factual unbiased documentation. However, the photographer makes a number of decisions throughout the process, from subject to framing and staging to developing, that must be considered as filters between the event or moment photographed and the ultimate viewer. We must understand the person behind the camera in order to understand the photograph. The photo “Margaret Bourke-White in high altitude flying gear” undoubtedly makes a strong statement about diversity once we consider the life and career of the artist. Margaret Bourke-White was a photographer and photo-journalist who performed a number of tremendous firsts and broke down barriers for women in both fields. She began as a photographer for advertisements in New York and went through several professional reincarnations throughout her career, from portrait photographer during the depression to photo-journalist during World War II.[1] Unlike many other photographers at the time she was consistently able to find funding for her projects, working as a successful commercial photographer during the Great Depression. Her photos appeared in Fortune and Life magazines throughout the Great Depression and World War II. Additionally, “Bourke-White popularized the vocation of photo-journalism itself by writing several books that combined autobiography, commentary on topical issues, and photographs.”[2] Her writing came second to the photographs she took, but through lectures and writing she worked out her impressions of what she witnessed. She was both the first woman to be accredited as a war photographer by the U.S. Armed Forces and the first woman ever allowed to fly on a combat mission.[3] She photographed influential leaders such as Patton, Churchill and Josef Stalin, the latter at a time when no foreign photographers were given access. She was the most widely-acclaimed female journalist of the era, an image that gave her unprecedented access throughout her career. “Constructing herself was one of Bourke-White’s most stellar achievements.”[4]

Bourke-White began working for Life in 1936 when the photo magazine first started, and continued to contribute photographs for several decades. In the early years she focused mainly on industrial and architectural subjects, but that changed with the outbreak of World War II. She was sent to Russia a mere month before hostilities began between the USSR and Germany. To a certain extent she was in the right place at the right time, acting on a hunch of Wilson Hicks, the picture editor at Life. But she showed remarkable resilience and dedication to her craft during the air raids on Moscow. During this time she provided Life with exclusive coverage of the eastern front as the only foreign photographer present in Russia at a time when photography by foreigners was forbidden.[5] It was during her time in Russia that Bourke-White realized a moral imperative in her work, and that “her photographs could serve a purpose beyond their immediate utility as advertising shots.”[6] Shortly after returning to the United States, she requested another European assignment from Life, this time in conjunction with the US Armed Forces and the Pentagon. In her autobiography Portrait of Myself Bourke-White described her accreditation to photograph the US Army Air Force: “My accreditation was a unique one, as war photographer directly assigned to the Air Force, with the Pentagon as well as Life using my pictures. I was allowed to do everything I required to build up my picture story […] except the one thing that really counted. I was not allowed to go on an actual combat mission.”[7] That would change in North Africa.

Bourke-White was authorized to accompany an air raid over Tunis in North Africa in January 1943. She was the first woman ever to fly with a U.S. combat crew over enemy soil.[8] Along with the airmen carrying out the mission, she found out only the morning of the raid that they would be targeting the El Auina airfield at Tunis where a number of enemy planes sat awaiting their own missions. It was the air raid that pushed the Luftwaffe off the African continent; Bourke-White was present for and documented yet another pivotal moment in the war.

The photo “Margaret Bourke-White in high altitude flying gear” appeared in the March 1, 1943 issue of Life under the heading “Life’s Bourke-White Goes Bombing.” The photo in the magazine appears to have been taken mere seconds after the one in our exhibition, once Bourke-White had taken off her helmet. The subsequent photo essay documented the entire mission from strategy meetings to troop briefing, loading bombs on the planes and of course the flight itself. There were also annotated maps giving readers a better idea of where the mission occurred. The photo in the exhibition was taken while preparing for the bombing raid, performing dress rehearsals in full high altitude gear to make absolutely sure Bourke-White would be able to get the photos she needed during the air raid. Naturally she wanted to make the most of this unprecedented opportunity. In the photo, she is holding one of the K-20 military cameras loaned to her by the Air Force. They lent her a total of three cameras: one smaller Speed Graphic for photos of the crew inside the plane and two K-20s for aerial photographs. The K-20 was an Army airplane camera built of rigid metal to withstand the vibration of the plane.[9] She had lost most of her own cameras when her ship was torpedoed on the way to North Africa. She stands in front of a B-17 Flying Fortress, possibly the one in which she took her historic flight. She wears a high-altitude flying suit that was undoubtedly designed for a man, as no other woman had needed one before. This photo is an important document of Bourke-White’s many achievements. However it is a veritable work of art past being a factual historical document. Bourke-White looks up and out of the frame rather than confronting the camera directly, giving the image an aspirational and ascendant atmosphere. Further, the textures of the high-altitude suit and the plane are juxtaposed beautifully against the clear sky.

The photos taken by Bourke-White and published by Life during World War II served vital informational ends on the home-front, as well as providing the Pentagon with material. Bourke-White was present for and photographed many pivotal events in World War II, giving the people at home much-needed information. In a way, she made it more real for them. As a war photo-journalist Bourke-White served a noble mission, even if we do not consider all the firsts she achieved for women. With the consideration of her gender, her achievements are positively inspirational.

Margaret Bourke-White’s ambition, artistry and need for adventure made her one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, irrespective of gender. The self-portrait included in the exhibition is a major example of her many breakthroughs and firsts in the field of photo-journalism during World War II. Not only was she the first female war correspondent, with the first uniform for a woman war correspondent designed for her in 1942.[10] She also amazed soldiers with her willingness to sleep in foxholes and absolute dedication to her craft. She saw a great moral imperative in the work she did during the war. Bourke-White saw it as her obligation to the people at home to report what she saw, however difficult the subjects. As a result of her persistence and tenacity, although “the number of women photographing on battle fronts was miniscule, […] the barrier against their covering war had been irreparably breached.”[11] She was a strong figure with a strong ego and personality, enabling her to forge a new path for women that had never been attempted before.

http://books.google.com/books?id=WlEEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false


[1] Bourke-White, Margaret, and Sean Callahan. Margaret Bourke-White: Photographer. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. p. 102

[2] Rosenblum, Naomi. A History of Women Photographers. Paris: Abbeville Press, 1994. p. 185

[3] Bourke-White, Margaret, and Sean Callahan. Margaret Bourke-White: Photographer. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998 p. 105

[4] McEuen, Melissa A. Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2000. p. 224

[5] Bourke-White, Margaret, and Sean Callahan. Margaret Bourke-White: Photographer. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. p. 102

[6] McEuen, Melissa. Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2000. p. 219

[7] Bourke-White, Margaret. Portrait of Myself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963. p. 202

[8] Bourke-White, Margaret. “Life’s Bourke-White Goes Bombing.” Life 1 Mar. 1943: 17

[9] Bourke-White, Margaret. Portrait of Myself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963. p. 223

[10] Bourke-White, Margaret. Portrait of Myself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963. p. 197

[11] Rosenblum, Naomi. A History of Women Photographers. Paris: Abbeville Press, 1994. p. 184