A certain photograph can be summarized in a few words or maybe it’s a thousand just like the popular English idiom would suggest. Regardless of the quantity of words that can be conveyed through one, what’s more important is how they make us feel. Unlike other old-fashioned forms of artistic expression, photography leaves little in the way of skill or technique and instead promotes the subjective aspect – it manipulates our emotions and is oftentimes less artistically impressive than a painting. That being said, there are times when some photos truly astonish us with their framing or focal point. One of these photos is the one that was in the Black Lives Matter area at the ICP.
I would argue that taking a picture of a picture is not exactly the best way to showcase it. For instance, in the one I took the lighting is pretty bad and creates a reflection which makes it hard to see the detail of the photo. Obviously, this happens everytime we introduce another step between the camera and the “consumption” of said photo. Hence why professional photographers try to use equipement that is as close to neutral as possible in regards to color accuracy and grayscale.
The photo itself did not have an explanatory text so I’m going to have to make some assumptions about it. The first thing that someone notices about this photo is that it is black and white. The man in the forefront is of African American descent and has painted on his forehead the word “VOTE”. This picture was probably taken sometime in 1965 before – or maybe after – the Voting Rights Act which permitted Blacks to register to vote without being discriminated. Other men are present in the background, most of which are black except the one on his right who seems white. This was also the same period that Szarkowski published his book “The Photographers Eye”.
It is important to know when talking about detail that the pictures in that time period came out very grainy and making out individual details was pretty hard. Obviously, they have been edited through a computer software so as to reduce the grain and enhance the lighting of the scene while still preserving the essence of the original photo. There is a strong contrast between the person’s teeth that are very white and his skin. Many people are surrounding him which probably suggests they are protesting against something. The photo is taken at eye-level and the background decor suggests that it would probably be set in a rural town.
Overall the photo gives the impression that people are happy, the man has a smile on his face and with knowing how history progressed, these man were finally given equal rights to vote.
Szarkowski’s criteria of photo analyzing are now more than 50 years old and some of his criteria are now somewhat outdated. His time section seems particularly interesting to me since it was a period where photography was evolving at a fast rate and saw the introduction of Single Lens Reflex cameras which allowed very fast shutter speeds to capture motion in a manner that was unseen before. Photography is now also a technology that is constantly evolving and allowing users to have more tools than ever before in order to capture the perfect shot. The notion of time and the scientific explanation behind it is much harder to explain than Szarkowski would lead us to believe in his short paragraph.