NO CAPTION NEEDED
ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS, PUBLIC CULTURE, AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

April 14th, 2014

“… My Kingdom for a Drink of Water”

Posted by Lucaites in boots and hands, no caption needed

Water, Water, Water ...

Yes, I know, the quotation from Shakespeare’s Richard III concerns horses and not water, but then there was a time when horses were scarcer than water and at least arguably more important to survival.  Those days are gone. And we didn’t need the most recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to make the point or to underscore its importance.  Such reports have been made over and again in recent years indicating that water shortages are accelerating throughout the world as patterns of industrial and agricultural usage are increasingly polluting both ground water and the water table, and consumption is outstripping renewable sources at progressively alarming rates. Nor is the problem one that is only taking place in underdeveloped regions or nations, as those living in California or West Texas can immediately and readily attest.

The photograph above is not from California or West Texas, but shows those living on the southern bank of the Yangon River in Myanmar using paint cans to collect drinking water during the annual dry season in which water shortages have led to the drying up of the reservoirs, forcing local elders to create rationing systems.  And yet, while it is not California or West Texas it is not all that difficult to imagine how it could be in the altogether near future—or perhaps one of the other 34 states that the GAO anticipates will face water shortages in the near term.  To get the point one needs to avoid focusing on the bare feet and rusted out paint cans that have been repurposed as water containers, let alone the brown skin, all of which underscore something other than a first world experience, and concentrate instead on how the photograph directs attention to the way(s) in which the need for water dominates everyday life in an otherwise visually indistinct location.  There was a time when we would look at photographs of exotic locations and imagine that “their present is our past”; what we see here, however, is the way in which water is the great leveler that perhaps predicts that their present is our future.

The photograph did not receive much attention in the national media.  I found it in a “pictures of the day” slide show at the Seattle Times nestled between images of a moving sculpture at a music festival in California and men warming themselves at a fire near the barricades at a Ukrainian security office proximate to the Russian border.  As one more sluice of life incidentally contrasting the hardships of life “there” to the fun and festivities of life “here,” it would be altogether easy to miss, or merely to glance past without paying too much attention to it. Indeed, there was a time, not so long ago, when photographs of this sort would show up in places like National Geographic where readers would be encouraged to view the “present” of indigenous people in such exotic locations as “our past,” the assumption being that one day they too can experience the progress that modernity promises; here, however, it would seem that their present is cast as “our future.”  Or more to the point, it is a future that is already present without our clear recognition of it.

What makes the photograph all the more poignant is not just the way in which it serves as a kind of foreboding prophecy, but more, as it functions as something of an allegory for how to imagine the very problem of water shortage itself.  Note how the scene underscores the necessity of performing a careful balancing act, both socially and environmentally, to make the system of water recovery work. More to the point, note in particular not just how feet and hands strain so as to maintain equipoise on the balancing beam, but also how both participants need to coordinate with the other so as to avoid disrupting the overall ecology in which each operates. Whether or not we can actually adjust our contemporary patterns of resource usage and consumption so as to effect a sustainable world is open to question. But it will take effort and strain, and surely the appeal to “balance” that makes this system appear to work is more than worth the effort; indeed, it seems altogether necessary.

The bigger point, of course, is that solutions to such problems are right before us if we are willing to see them.  And photographs such as this, however subtle or otherwise hidden within the visual landscape, can serve as a powerful optic to help us do just that.  Look.  See. Engage.

Credit:  Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

December 2nd, 2013

Immigration Policy and the Theater of the Absurd

Posted by Lucaites in boots and hands

Immigrant Hands.1

We have written at NCN on more than occasion about the problem of immigration in the U.S., or perhaps more accurately, on the problem of US public policy regarding immigration and the need for reform.  Perhaps the dominant visual trope that is affiliated with U.S. immigration policies is the “wall,” a manufactured border that purports to function as a container that separates there from here and them from us.  Of course, the problem is that however sophisticated the technology and however large an army of Border Patrols agents we employ, such walls are never impermeable.  And so the policy is already and always fated to be a failure.

The real difficulty, however, may not be that we have the wrong solution to the problem so much as we refuse to come to terms with reality of the situation that we are facing.  The photograph above is telling in this regard.  The caption reads, “Dessert for an immigrant detainee in his segregation cell during lunchtime at the Adelanto center [in San Bernadino, California].”  The institutionally grey, steel cell door is something of a wall and it dominates the photograph, cutting across the diagonal, separating inside from outside and the representative of the U.S. from the detained immigrant.  The bolt lock on the top creates the impression of security, but the opening in the door makes it clear that total separation is impossible—if even desirable given that apparently some communication and interaction seems at least useful.  It is thus, at least in some senses, a visual metaphor for the (as yet incomplete) wall that has been proposed to traverse much of the 2,000 miles of U.S. borderland between California and Texas.

But of course there is more, for what makes the photograph distinctive is not the metaphorical wall so much as the extended hands that traverse the opening.  Hands with opposable thumbs are distinctively human and here we see them as fragmented body parts.  The fragmentation is not incidental.  Typically the face is the visual marker of the liberal individual; absent such markings we don’t see particular individuals but rather social types, and thus the scene becomes something of an allegory for one dimension of the body politic as it negotiates the relationship between citizen and so-called “illegal” or “undocumented” immigrant.  Viewing the image in this register invites us to imagine U.S. immigration and border policy as played out in something like the Theater of the Absurd.

The hand on the right extends from inside the cell door, so it is clearly marked as “other” and “dangerous,” but apart from being large enough to be masculine and appearing to be white, the only social marking that it reveals is a wedding ring, linking its bearer to a time honored social ritual and tradition.  Were one to encounter this hand in any other situation it is unlikely that it would be seen as inherently alien, let alone precarious or threatening. The hand extending from the left is fully covered, a sleeve extending to the wrist and overlapping with a blue rubber glove, the two cinched by a watch strap.  The glove is the sort that we see being worn by investigators at a crime scene or a chemical spill, both situations where it is important to avoid contamination.  The overall impression, then, is that the arm and hand are hermetically sealed, and the implication here is hard to avoid: the hand on the left is protected from the presumably menacing or infectious hand on the right.

There is something altogether farcical about the relationship here and what calls it out is the piece of fruit being passed ever so tenderly from left to right as “dessert.”  On the one hand (no pun intended), the offer of dessert—not just food or nutrition—is a humane gesture designed to provide some measure of pleasure to the person connected to the “othered” hand on the right; and yet, on the other hand, one has to wonder about extending such a gesture to an alien who is truly dangerous, so much so that any contact whatsoever would somehow threaten the well being of the person connected to the hand on the left.  That one would make such a gesture recognizes a fundamental, ethical human and social responsibility that simply cannot be avoided or ignored, even when there are risks at stake.  Neither walls nor borders can erase it.  And even in our most paranoid state, it peaks through as an obligation that we have to our human brothers and sisters.

And so the point: the immigration problem we have in the U.S. is not, at its core, a matter of how to contain our borders so as to avoid making contact with alien others, as much as we might convince ourselves that such contact is risky,  but rather to recognize the fundamental obligation(s) we have to extending human rights in as humane a fashion as possible to all who share our humanity.  Once we allow ourselves to see that obligation and then commit ourselves to upholding it we will be better prepared to imagine how to negotiate the presence of immigrants within our midst and to produce policies that honor our very humanity without reverting to the theater of the absurd.

Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

April 29th, 2013

“Oh Happy Day”

Posted by Lucaites in boots and hands, visual memory

Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 9.06.07 PM

This past week marked the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University.  “Oh happy day,” announced the former president.  And as is the convention with such dedications, it was a grand celebration of the past president’s legacy.  And for the most part photojournalists followed the script, featuring numerous images of the five living presidents collected together in fraternal solidarity, as well as snapshots of various library exhibits such as the dedication to “free people” shown above, or in photographs of Barney and Miss Beazley’s food dishes and the former president’s baseball collection.

The dominant theme for the library is “What would you have done?” inviting visitors to participate with interactive displays allowing them to second guess the president’s various controversial policy decisions, from the search for weapons of mass destruction to the handling of Hurricane Katrina to addressing the debacle on Wall Street, and more.  Ironically enough, such judgments were rarely if ever solicited during the president’s two administrations and when they were expressed by various publics (or “free peoples”) they were systematically ignored.  But it is of course impossible to visualize something that did not occur—and in any case is not featured in the museum—and so the best that photojournalists were able to do was to call attention to the glitz and glamour.

One photograph, however, broke through the veneer of praise and acclaim that dominated the day’s festivities, although it was not featured in very many places.

Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 8.58.31 PM

The prosthetic leg belongs to Army 1st Lt. Melissa Stockwell (Ret.), the first female American soldier to lose a limb during the war in Iraq. She is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with the Bush family standing in the background.  Interestingly enough, neither of the former first ladies is looking directly at Lt. Stockwell, each carefully averting their eyes, while former President George W. Bush appears to be staring at her with a befuddled and confused look on his face.  We can only imagine what he might actually be thinking, but his gaze clearly directs our attention to her star spangled, red, white and blue prosthesis, an ersatz symbol of the personal and private cost of the war in Iraq that contrasts with the shape and contour of her remaining, normal leg.

We cannot see Lt. Stockwell’s face, but perhaps that is altogether appropriate, for while she is without doubt a hero and the cost to her has been inestimable, she is not alone. Indeed, she stands literally to represent the more than 1,300 military personnel who have lost an arm or a leg (with more than 40 triple amputees and 5 quadruple amputees) in Iraq or Afghanistan (and with more than 63% from the war in Iraq alone).  Perhaps this photograph and those statistics should be featured at the museum exhibit which announces: “No stockpiles of W.M.D. were found.”

After all, if a “free people” are truly to “set the course of history” they should have access to all of the facts.

Credit: Allison V. Smith/NYT; Alex Wong/Getty Images

March 3rd, 2013

Sight Gag: Working Together For the Common Good

Posted by Lucaites in boots and hands, sight gags

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

 

Credit: Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Sight Gag is our weekly nod to the ironic, satiric, parodic, and carnivalesque performances that are an important part of a vibrant democratic public culture.  These “gags” may not always be funny or represent a familiar point of view, but they attempt to cut through the lies, hypocrisy, shamelessness, stupidity, complacency, and other vices of democratic life.  Of course, we invite you to comment … and to send us images that you think might deserve a laugh or at least a wry and rueful look by those who are thinking about the character of public life today.

December 19th, 2012

After Newtown: Tokenism or Culture Change?

Posted by Hariman in boots and hands, the visual public

This is one photo that probably wasn’t included in the slide shows at the major papers this week.

nba_u_durant11_600

And why not, some might say, isn’t one memorial to the victims in Newtown as good as another?  Well, no, not really, but the show must go on in pro sports, and so perhaps this is the best that Kevin Durant could do, all things considered.  If you look closely, you can see that he has written “Newtown CT” on the shoe that he wore for the Friday night game.  Nor was he alone: players and teams around the NBA and NFL put names on shoes and gloves, pasted decals on helmets, observed moments of silence, and otherwise had token observances across their scoreboards, end zones, and assorted other media.

And the New England Patriots even went to far as to donate $25,000 for the families of the victims.  Really.  And if you don’t believe it, just tune in to ESPN, which is making darn sure that everyone knows just how much the sports world cares, really cares, about the tragedy.

It’s hard, very hard, not to be cynical about these token gestures.  Indeed, I think the photo above neatly captures just how small and temporary they are: compared to the gleaming arena floor, polished like the finest glass, and the Nike swoosh, which represents a lucrative shoe contract for a global market, the small, black lettering is sure to be discarded soon, which will hardly matter as no one without a telephoto lens could see it anyway.  Ditto the tiny helmet decals, the player Tweets, and any other efforts to laminate compassion onto celebrity.

But that’s too easy.  Just about every candle, teddy bear, classroom letter, and prayer chain is also but a gesture.  And if the better memorial would have been to cancel the game, well, how many of you refused to go to work on Friday or Monday because you thought doing so would dishonor the dead?  The truth is, there is very little that anyone can do in response to such senseless slaughter, and that applies not only for distant strangers but also for close friends and family of the bereaved.  And however mixed the motives might be in the business of sports, one shouldn’t be too quick to assume that nothing is sincere.  (I’m told that Kevin Durant is a fine human being.)  So, token gestures become part of the story of how a nation deals with social rupture.

Of course, nothing said above should excuse pro sports for some of its excesses.  Individual players perhaps should get a pass, but the organizations may indeed need to consider that the better response really is to do nothing–or, if they really want to help the people in their own backyard, to do it right.  (Certain prominent figures on the religious right might want to take a hard look into that same mirror.)  But, again, the matter at hand is about more than pro sports or any other single institution.  The hope that many of us have this week–the one we hold on to against the shock and grief and dismay–is that this time the carnage might really bring the country to its senses about its culture of violence.  And although the resistance will be extensive, there are signs that change could be happening already.

One of the interesting things about American democracy is that it can be stalemated for so long and then seemingly transform itself in a few years.  Think of what happened after Pearl Harbor, or what has happened in the past few years regarding the acceptance of homosexuality (even the word now sounds antique).  The strength of the political culture is that it’s not just a political culture–that is, a subculture defined solely by a political class, although there is some of that–but instead richly intertwined with all the rest of society.  Think of the importance of integrating pro sports for civil rights, not just then but continuously, and look at how so many different people and organizations respond in kind to disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes–and shootings.  In those situations, what otherwise would be tokenism can become something else: a small but visible commitment to real change.

Guns are not unknown among pro athletes, so hypocrisy may yet prove to be the norm there and elsewhere as well.  But I hope that something else could be in the works, there and especially elsewhere.  In any case, the change requires silent, personal, private resolve to think differently–and not least to move beyond the political habits that were part of the prior stalemate.  Thinking differently is easier to do, however, if it can be done in small ways that can be shared with others who might want to do the same.  And to be shared with other citizens, there is nothing like doing something that can be seen.  So this week I’m giving token gestures of solidarity a pass, and in the hope that this time the nation can raise its game to a higher level of play.

Photograph by Jerome Maron/USA Today Sports.

December 3rd, 2012

The Gestural Economy of Hands and Faces

Posted by Lucaites in boots and hands, no caption needed

Images of hands (and feet) have become stock images in the photojournalist’s tool kit.  If you look at the slide shows that appear daily and weekly on the web you will find them to be ubiquitous.  Indeed, they have become something of a gestural remediation in the movement from oral to visual representation.  This should not surprise us since hand movements have long been an important part of the orator’s stock in trade.  And what is especially important is that such images access and animate an important gestural economy of emotions and identifications that cross all manner of affective relations and demographic boundaries even as they accent race, gender, age, and other categories as well.  What is most significant here is that they challenge the more common convention of identifying and representing actors is featuring their faces (the primary marker of liberal individualism).  We typically do not identify individuals by their hands or feet alone, and the reason is palpable: hands and feet underscore human similarity even as they mark difference.  And as a result, they become important sites for encouraging empathy or compassion—although these are clearly not the only emotions that such images underscore.

The photograph above is interesting in this regard as it places two conventions in tension with one another, as both face and hands are present, though it is the hands that are most prominent, and not simply because they are larger and more to scale, or because they are more prominent in the photograph, but also because they are a first order representation, while the face on the bumper sticker is a second order representation (a photograph of a photograph).  The hands, in this sense, are “more” real, and while they could belong to the child pictured on the bumper sticker, we can’t know that for sure.  And so the photograph encourages us to consider the relationship between the two—both the hands and face and the orders of representation in which they operate.  In short, the hands, which are front and center and mark a universal humanity, hold and display a sentiment that no doubt effects the child pictured, but potentially extends beyond him or her as well—one can imagine other children on display.  The photograph is part of a slide show that marks a peace rally on Chicago’s South Side, and so it marks a particular event, but it also stands as an invitation to consider the sense in which the random and criminal violence that cuts young lives (and others) too short is larger than any one city.

But of course, there are limits here as well.  And the juxtaposition of face and hands indicates that as well.  To get the point, substitute the face of a white child on the bumper sticker.  There is no doubt that white children are the victims of random and criminal violence in our urban centers, but on the whole that is not the core of the problem (though a problem it is, to be sure).  And so even as the focus on the hands frames exigency as more or less universal—and thus invites a more generalized compassion, if not responsibility for the situation—the face in the background is a reminder that like most problems this one is localized by particular sites and circumstances.

Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America

September 10th, 2012

Hiding the Cost of War

Posted by Lucaites in boots and hands, visualizing war

The photograph above is of Tammy Duckworth, a candidate for U.S. Congress in Illinois’ Eighth District, speaking at the Democratic National Convention this past week. She is also a war hero, having been among the first women to fly combat missions in Iraq, losing both of her legs when a grenade landed in her lap while piloting a Blackhawk helicopter north of Baghdad.  Her opponent for Congress, the incumbent Republican Joe Walsh has accused her of not being a “true hero” because she makes a point of discussing her military service in her campaign.  To quote former President Clinton in a different context, “that takes some brass,” especially coming from someone who has never served a day in the military in his life.  But the photograph above is not about Congressman Walsh’s Neanderthal attitudes nor even about Tammy Duckworth’s heroic service and sacrifice to her nation—or at least not explicitly so.

Shot from behind the podium and at a high angle that crops her body at the waist and accents her prosthetic legs, the photograph emphasizes what the viewing audience could not see—at least not while she was speaking. Viewed from the front we see a face, the marker of the liberal individual, a person.  And any person who can make their way onto the national stage to address a live audience of thousands and a mass mediated audience of millions can’t be doing all that bad.

Viewed from the back, however, the photograph invites a different story.  It reminds us of the terrible price that this individual paid—and now note that she is anonymous, faceless, another casualty of war but not one that we have to address directly.  In short, the photograph is an aide memoire to what we desperately don’t want to see, to what we want actively to forget: that we sent her into battle and the price she paid is really our debt, but it is a debt we have no way of paying.

In a sense, the photograph is a comment on the hundreds of images we see of the more than 1,200 veterans who have lost limbs in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and yet, through the wonders of modern medical technology (ironically made possible because of advances in “war medicine”), survived to live what appear to be so-called “normal” lives.  And indeed, it is the emphasis on appearance that is very much to the point, for in the end we rarely learn very much about the ordinary lives that such people live and pain, trauma, and hardships that they face.

Consider, for example, this photograph that appeared recently in a slide show dedicated to the recovery of war veterans at Brooke Army Medical Center.

What you are looking at here are not real arms and legs, but rather “life-like covers” designed to slip over prosthetic limbs so as to masquerade a disability and to hide it from public view.  Note in particular the customized tattoos on the arm that make it appear to be individual and personal. There is every reason to believe that an amputee would want to be “seen” as normal, to hide his or her stigma, and thus to mask their prosthesis with a “life-like cover.”  Or rather there is every reason to believe that this is how someone who does not share such a disability—a so called “normal” person—might imagine how an amputee would want to cover-up his or her “shame.”  But really, the shame is ours and such “life-like covers” function, at least on par, as a veil that makes it easier for us to forget or to ignore our complicity with the sacrifice such men and women have made and the real debts that have to be paid.

Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP; John Moore/Getty Images

August 27th, 2012

“I Guess, You Know, Stuff Happens”

Posted by Lucaites in boots and hands, catastrophe

You might have heard that there was a shooting in midtown Manhattan late last week.  It was in all of the papers and on the nightly news. Of course, then again, such events seem to be routine so maybe you missed it.  The perpetrator got off five rounds, all aimed directly at his target; the police got off seventeen shots.  Nine bystanders were hit with bullets.  Do the math.

The photographic record of the event ranges from the somewhat clichéd representation of yellow and blue police line tape and numbered crime scene markers shot from on high and at a distance to mark the official response to a somewhat voyeuristic image of a dead body resting in a sea of red blood to the absolutely bizarre snapshot of smiling tourists (from France, no less) posing in front of the scene where the carnage too place.  But it is the photograph above that tells the story that really needs to be told.

The woman, Madia Rosario, is one of the nine innocent bystanders hit by police bullets (that’s right, all nine were wounded by police bullets or ricochets).  She is thankfully in stable condition, as are apparently the other eight bystanders who were wounded. But what should concern us is that she and the others were shot at all.  There have already been calls to investigate whether the officers were following regulations when they discharged their weapons with bystanders at risk, but there is a different point to be made.  Or maybe two.

The first point is that this is just one more of a continuing—weekly if not daily—litany of such shootings, each of which is treated as if it were an entirely individual and isolated event.  A disturbed individual goes berserk and shoots up a school yard or a campus or a church or a movie theater. As one of the bystanders hit by a police bullet put it, “You know, stuff happens.”  But of course these  are not isolated events, for what connects them quite palpably is the simple fact that in each case the perpetrators all had too easy access to automatic or semi-automatic weapons.  There is no easy way to represent that connection photographically, and so we resort to commonplaces that individuate the problem by emphasizing the perverse psychology of the perpetrator and/or visualizing the official response.  But of course  in countries with more restrictive access to such weaponry events like this happen far less frequently. On this point the facts are incontrovertible.  Once again, do the math.

The second point is really a response to those who claim that everyone will be safer when we all have guns and can thus protect ourselves from such violence and bloodshed. But the photograph of Madia Rosario suggests perhaps otherwise.  The police are enjoined never to “put civilians in the line of fire.”  And more, they are trained in how to respond to crisis situations in which chaos reigns and human behavior is animated more by fear and the rush of adrenalin than reason or common sense. And on par they do a pretty decent job.   And yet for all their training and preparation, “stuff happens.” One can only imagine what stuff would happen if bystanders not trained in crisis management of any sort were carrying weapons and started shooting.  Just do the math.

Photo Credit: Uli Seit/New York Times

May 30th, 2012

Signifying Shoes

Posted by Hariman in boots and hands, fashion/fiction

You might think that a high end fashion item would seem more valuable for being rare, hard to get, almost one of a kind.  Everyone should want one of the items, but it should be clear that not everyone will have one.  So it is that this display of Christian Louboutin shoes seems counter-intuitive.  How can there be so many of something so pricey?  Why pay so much for something that appears mass produced and uniform?  The Louboutin website opens with a pair of heels under glass, as if they were a rare treasure that should be protected from the open air, whereas this display of indistinguishable copies invites comparisons with the knockoff items that you can buy for a few bucks on the New York street.

But the curator who created this exhibit at the Design Museum isn’t in the business of selling shoes.  Like the designer, she is keenly aware of how shoes signify, but the focus here is on prompting reflection on fashion as a design art.  Two of the contradictions within modern fashion are that “exclusive” products typically are mass produced, and that consumers strive to distinguish themselves using identical items.  These conditions make good design harder, not easier to achieve.  Instead of individualized tailoring whereby everyone could be outfitted uniquely, clothing, furniture, and everything else has to be appealing and functional for many different people despite having a single, impersonal form.  By acknowledging these constraints, the exhibit captures Louboutin’s achievement: even when one pair of shoes is shown to be exactly like all the others, they still look really good.

It’s also interesting to see how focusing on one art can reflect back on another.  The display of the shoes makes each pair interchangeable with the others; what are real shoes become mere copies of an absent original.  Thus, the mere awareness of mechanical reproduction subverts a secure sense of the reality or worth of the object.  Photography, of course, suffers the same fate: the ease in making reproductions of any image heightens awareness of how each one is a copy of another reality.  One result, particularly in the hands of some theorists, is to fault the art for cheapening our sense of what is really real.  What happens, however, is that some images prove to be all the more exceptional for that.  Their artistic achievements become more obvious, not less, when set against many others much like them.  And that competition for attention amidst a pervasive process of copying is another of the constraints in fashion design.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that one way to distinguish each of the shoes above is by the way it catches the light.

Nor need the comparison stop there.  Fashion and photography can intersect not only in the museum but also out on the street.  Or at the Golden Gate Bridge.

This commemorative display was created by the Bridge Rail Foundation, which advocates for measures to prevent suicides at the structure.  Turns out there is more than one design problem involved.  On the one hand, the bridge proves to be superbly suited to a wholly unintended use; on the other hand, perhaps the most deep-set objection is that preventative modifications mar the bridge’s aesthetic appeal, which is one of its principle design features.

In any case, it is interesting that a display of shoes can say so much about the tragic cost of inaction, and comparison with the first image can identify some of the reasons why.  Whereas in the first image multiple copies enhanced distinctiveness, here the obvious uniqueness 0f each of the pairs heightens a sense of common fate. Each person wearing the identically recognizable Linboutin shoes will stand out in a crowd, and the status markers proclaim that they have the personalized flair that comes with being among society’s winners.  Each of these motley yet varied shoes at the bridge marks a single individual no longer visible, someone who ended up at the bottom of life, caught in an undertow of despair that lead to the same darkness.

However cheap, each one of those shoes was a small fashion statement before it became a means for civic advocacy.  The shoes’ second significance is extended further by being copied by the camera.  Shoes, like photographs, are social objects, and so can talk by being seen and communicate further by being displayed.  This photograph expresses the advocates’ intention, but it also prompts the viewer to think about who is seen and valued, who is granted attention or other social goods and who is left to walk by unseen–as if just another copy of the one before, even if on their way to the bridge.

Photographs by  Jonathan Short/Associated Press and Noah Berger/Associated Press.

May 28th, 2012

Mirroring Responsibilities: Lest We Forget

Posted by Lucaites in boots and hands, visual memory

Photo Credit: Susan Walsh/AP

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