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From the series Mad Men, an ad pitch for the Kodak Carousel product: This provides an introduction to considering the role of nostalgia in a photograph’s appeal (as well as the role of nostalgia in this television show’s appeal.)  By the way, also be sure to notice the style of photography in the filming of the show as well. How many times do they use the silhouette?

Look at the following iconic photos from the March on Washington, 1963.

(for quick reference, from On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 Americans gathered in Washington, D.C., for a political rally known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Organized by a number of civil rights and religious groups, the event was designed to shed light on the political and social challenges African Americans continued to face across the country. The march, which became a key moment in the growing struggle for civil rights in the United States, culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a spirited call for racial justice and equality.)

Photos from March on Washington

Consider how each of these photos tell a story and specifically focus on “who” is in the photo, “what” emotions and ideas are expressed, and “how” the photographer made artistic choices.

Does nostalgia play a role in how we see these photos?

Do any other “filters” play a role in how we see these photos?

Look at the images slowly and choose one (other than one with King actually in it) which best conveys the emotions and ideals inspired by King’s presence in Washinton? Share your ideas about your “reading” of the photo and how it signifies that important event in history.

Here is the background story to one image that does this.


5 responses »

  1. I think nostalgia does play a big role in these photos. The classic story I was told as a little kid of Martin Luther King leading blacks to freedom is displayed in high contrast almost bringing the emotion of the subjects to life and leading the viewer to feel an even stronger connection to photographs. I think the Image of the African American lined up protesting as they are walking away from the Washington Memorial displays the emotions and presence MLKJ brought to washington. Peacefully and bravely protesting as proud African Americans. It is a more empowering image which resonates more with MLK’s attitude. He wanted to empower the African Americans to stand up for themselves and seek equality rather than stating all of the struggles that accompany being black. This image used empowerment to make a statement rather than sympathy.

  2. I agree with Kahlo, I think part of these photos is the nostalgic appeal of them, the dream MLK had about African American and White people living together in unity. The photo with A. Philip Randolph standing in front of Abraham Lincoln shows Nostalgia because seems to be longingly looking, but we do’t know at it is hes looking. The contrast between he and Lincoln shows that the ideas of the founding fathers is not only alive, but in fact is finally becoming a reality. In the image with John Lewis and others marching it is clear that the white person marching with them is very enthused and lively about the movement and is channeling the emotion of his fellow men. The very last photo is very powerful, although I’m not sure I would exactly call it nostalgic if I were looking at it in the heat of the moment but looking back on it a while later I would definitely call it nostalgic.

    • Nostalgia can definitely play a role in taking the photograph and in viewing it. You make a good point. Some photographers also like to explore nostalgic style as well as subject matter in the way they stage and compose a subject.

  3. I think that we look at these photos and definitely see it as the past, as an important event. By a lot of the photographs focusing on individual people and not just showing the whole crowd, it gives a more personal feel to the photos and shows that the movement wasn’t just a lot of people. Each have their own story and reasons to support the cause, and that’s what gives the pictures a more nostalgic feeling.

    • That’s a good point about the importance of the everyday people in these photos. By contrast, the photos of the celebrities seem only important as a record of who was there, but not nearly as interesting as those that tell individual stories about the struggle for civil rights.

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