One of the characteristics of iconic images is that people play with them: artists, advocates, advertisers, comics, you name it, there always is somebody willing to drag and drop, cut, color, emblazon, or otherwise alter the image. Of course, another feature of the icon is that it has a special place in the public archive; consequently, others will say these ordinary techniques of appropriation are improper or even an assault on artistic integrity and communal values.
For example, you just shouldn’t colorize a classic black and white photo, right? Artistic integrity is at risk here. Likewise, you shouldn’t strip a national icon of its patriotic content, should you? Isn’t that a cheap shot at those who were being honored?
If you’ve read our work, you know that John and I think otherwise, but that’s not the point here. What is interesting is how slide shows of each of these techniques have been circulating recently. There are a number of collections of colorized icons: for example, here, here, and here. (“Icon” often is being used more broadly that I would use the term, but I don’t own it and the difference usually is not worth an argument.) And the second image above is from the Fatescapes project of the Slovakian artist Pavel Maria Smejkal.
Different techniques shouldn’t be strictly equated, but it is interesting to me how both accenting and removing the flag works to a similar effect of highlighting its importance. Whatever the alternation of an iconic image, it usually reveals something important about the original. That said, the differences are significant as well. For example, the accented flag may mark the emotional response that is cued by but not actually evident in the photograph, while the emptied tableau highlights the extent to which war’s desolation was always a subordinate but important part of the composition.
So play on. After all, we can always see the originals.