Essay #1: ICP
Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change, touches on many relevant social themes. Climate change, refugees, gender and sexuality, and extremist propaganda are all very different topics, but are linked together through this exhibit. The overall message looming throughout the exhibit is about the power of image and how it has been and continues to be a vehicle for pushing social change. Looking at all the images ranging from various time periods it is clear that the world has constantly been resisting and changing. Image has been used to capture these moments but it has also brought forth mobilization. This has created a continuous cycle of image inspiring change and change inspiring the image. Through the analysis of three photographs from the exhibit, the theme of the cyclical relationship between the image and social change will become clear.
The first image to be analyzed is captioned: Before the Proclamation; After the Proclamation. This is a unique piece because it is actually using two images to create one photography and one message. The image on the left shows the portrait of a young Black boy with the title “Before the Proclamation”. It is an old black and white photograph with a simple white backdrop. The boy is gazing off, with his eyes away from the camera. He is giving a very empty stare into the distance. The image on the right is titled “After the Proclamation”. Almost every element in the second image remains the same expect for the title and the boy’s expression in his face. The change is subtle but the effect is significant. The choice to keep everything the same apart from the boy’s face symbolizes the type of change the Emancipation Proclamation brought. After it was declared all slaves were freed, however, the racism and terrorism towards African Americans continued. The small but dramatic change from a dead gaze to an enthusiastic smile can allude to the realities of the Emancipation Proclamation. African Americans were not given equal rights, the majority of African American did not rise in social class. Most African Americans entered the sharecropping business which required them to work for almost nothing on the land of their old masters, essentially carrying through the old slavery systems after the Proclamation. In the photo the boy is smiling after the Proclamation because he is free but his clothes remain the same and his hunched over posture presumably from working tirelessly remains the same. The small details from this picture show that although the declaration of the Proclamation was a dramatic change, it was only dealing with one aspect of the problem and that there is much more left to address. This is an image that could have certainly served as inspiration to continue the fight for equality and against racism.
The second image up for analysis is captioned: Refugees arrive in a Turkish boat near the village of Skala, on the Green Island of Lesbos. This picture is a great representation of skillful photojournalism. The photographer, Sergey Ponomarev, uses many techniques John Szarkowski explains in The Photographer’s Eye. The subject is centered in the middle of the framed shot. This choice to place the subject directly in front of the viewer results in a very interesting image. The subject is this dynamic boat of refugees, one man in particular who is pulling the boat forward stands out. There is a lot going on in the boat: some people helping, others talking, some looking at the camera but Ponomarev’s choice of vantage point and frame keeps the center of focus on the man pulling the boat. The man is literally pulling the boat towards the camera, delivering a photo in motion. The techniques implemented in this photo detail the strength and courage of refugees but also highlight the vastness of their journey. The frame of the shot allows the viewer to see a range of mountains in the distance. This emphasizes the long distance these people had to migrate.
The last image to be analyzed is a screenshot of a picture posted on Instagram. The picture itself did not have a specific caption but in the picture protesters are holding up a sign that reads “Lesbians against the Nazis and Klan”. This photograph was presumably taken years ago, however, in the Instagram post it is being reappropriated for the issues that still linger today. This photo is essentially a picture within a picture which is an interesting and necessary way to analyze photos in our current digital age. From the caption, to the hashtags, and the comments, it becomes an entirely new image. It illustrates the cyclical main message of the show: past images can create social change and social change can inspire the creation of new images. This old image of a lesbian group protesting in solidarity against racism ignites inspiration in these same communities because it creates a sense of responsibility to continue the fight.
These images all center around the power of photography in social change. Using the techniques of technology, a photographer can capture the most telling things within society. They can be subtle details, or dramatic and scenic shots. Regardless of the type of photo it is clear that the relationship between photography and social change is cyclical in nature. Photography tends to inspire change while change can also inspire the use of photography.