A puzzle in a picture
(Estimated reading time = 2 minutes)
The idea for this entry came from Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. I was listening to the episode about ‘The Foot Soldier of Birmingham‘ and half-formed questions were occupying my brain. I’m still not clear about the questions, so it’s not surprising that I don’t have any answers.
What’s the story?
This photograph became an iconic symbol for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It was taken in 1963, when Martin Luther King visited Birmingham, Alabama. In the photo, it seems like the police officer is setting his dog on a ‘foot soldier’ of the civil rights movement. In fact, the young man – later identified as Walter Gadsen – was an onlooker. He was not part of the civil rights movement. The police officer – Dick Middleton – was restraining the dog.
But the photo – taken by Bill Hudson – was used to show police brutality. Some say that it had a major impact in changing views about the civil rights movement. This seems like a good outcome. But do the ends justify the means? By all accounts, Bill Middleton was a good police officer who treated people equally. Is it right that he should be portrayed as a villain?
Is it right that an incident that was distinct from the protest should be used to illustrate it? What are the responsibilities of the photographer and his editor? Is this an example of fake news?
Much later, this incident was depicted in a sculpture. the details have been changed quite significantly to make a point. The young man is much smaller, the dog more vicious, the police officer more menacing.
Somehow, I feel happier with these changes. For me, the passing of time and the abstract nature of the sculpture lets me know that I’m looking at something that is conveying a message more than showing a specific act.
Is that right? Is my position ethically sustainable? Can my questions about the photo be swept aside when I look at the statue?
Let me know what you think. or what questions this generates for you.
(I also referred to ‘On the wrong side of history‘ while writing this entry.)
… or ‘The scars remain’?
(Click on image for larger version.)
This might provide some context.
Other, related images will be posted in Flickr.
Austin Kleon with Chase Jarvis
So what does this trigger for you?
Do you share your work? If so, where? Let me know and I’ll take a look.
You can find my stuff here (but you knew that already), but also:
(which is probably a form of shameless self-promotion!)
Over the weekend we were in Newcastle (upon Tyne) for a wee break. Before we went we knew that there was an exhibition of some works by Turner and Constable at the Laing Art Gallery. We decided to go to the exhibition on Saturday morning. It wasn’t too busy, and we were able to move at our own pace looking at the 60, or so, exhibits. I didn’t count, but I’d estimate that 50% of the pieces were by Constable or Turner, the rest were from some of their contemporaries.
A few aspects of the exhibition interested me, but overall I wasn’t inspired.
Then, we poked our heads into a gallery and were stunned to find Susan Stenger’s work ‘Sound Strata of Coastal Northumberland‘, which is part of the AV festival. I was particularly impressed with the visual part of the display – a 12 metre long geological diagram detailing the strata to be found along the Northumbrian coast. It is a detailed, precise, technical drawing, but it’s a thing of beauty.
The diagram is accompanied by a 58-minute soundtrack, which uses the images to trigger musical responses. I have to admit that I didn’t listen to all of the music – I was aware of it, and I thought that I could place where the music was fitting parts of the diagram.
But the diagram was the star of the show for me. I was captivated by it, which more than compensated for my slight disappointment with the Turner and Constable exhibition.
Unfortunately I can’t post any photos. I did ask, and I agreed to abide by the answer. So you’ll just have to go the Laing Gallery if you want to experience it for yourself. It’s on until 06 April 2014.
This was a temporary exhibition to celebrate the Lindisfarne Gospels returning to the north east (Durham) during the summer. Created by Steve Messam and consisting of over 30,000 bottles filled with ink. (I thought this one needed some explanation. More details here.)