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The Methodology Of Context In Photography

1849 words - 8 pages

Among so many other mediums, it is of particular interest to note that the practice of photography is not simply bound to one side of the spectrum of creative expression. As much as it can be perceived as an emotional piece of art, a photo can also very well be seen as a showcase of the current social world through an objective lens. What it is that truly defines a photo as being either an artistic endeavor or a means for documentation, however, is the context in which it is meant to be viewed by a particular audience. One single picture, after all, could appear drastically different alongside an article in a newspaper than it would if it were to be framed and hung alongside other photos on a museum wall. This idea is especially prevalent in the pieces shown in the exhibition Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle, wherein several photos are both seen as a standalone piece, as well as how they appeared in magazines or journals on the Civil Rights movement. Through comparing and contrasting several sets of these pictures, each displaying two vastly different ways in which they can be observed, the importance of context in regards to photography comes into full view, giving a larger perspective on what it is that gives a specific piece a certain meaning.
Given the subject matter of the aforementioned exhibition, it is best to first analyze one of the more provocative of the included pieces, as it is, interestingly enough, used as a means to garner sympathy for both sides of the Civil Rights movement depending on the type of context surrounding it. The photograph itself, captured by Charles Moore and subsequently titled as Firemen use High-Pressure Hoses against Protestors, depicts a powerful scene amidst of the struggle for civil rights, wherein three firefighters shoot their hoses at several black protestors, showcasing the forceful and violent tactics used by city officials in Birmingham to quell the turbulent racial unrest. Taken from the vantage point of the firemen to the left of the foreground, the viewer almost becomes an onlooker, observing what is happening to the protestors at their right who, while slightly distant in the middle ground, their huddled figures are still distinguishable enough to categorize them as the victims. In this sense, the audience is meant to develop sympathy in their cause by seeing the hardships that they must endure.
However, when placed into a completely new context, Moore’s photograph takes on a subtle, but still drastically different meaning for its audience. In the eleven-page photo-essay “The Spectacle of Racial Turbulence in Birmingham: They Fight a Fire that Won’t Go Out” published by Life magazine, the previously mentioned photograph is no longer meant to be seen as it is, but rather, as a two-page spread meant to introduce the photo-documentation of the events that occurred in Birmingham. Even more than that, however, is the fact that with this new context surrounding it, the...

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