Photo Discourse

Analysis and critique of a specific image

by Chris Little

A man and a woman are married. The most sacred of ceremonies progresses with neither incident nor disaster (that was to come some time later). Everyone is dressed in their Sunday finest and the participants follow the closely detailed itinerary and day is swallowed by night. Yet darkness doesn’t wait until sundown, for in a vast sea of white faces, which numbers near 200, a man of dark complexion is seated with a woman of ivory tinged skin. In an audience of this scale it’s difficult to distinguish 1 specific individual, yet as these two sit together in a physical manifestation of their love for another, eyes can’t help but be drawn to this “odd” physical pairing. 1976 shines brightly from the calendar on the wall. Despite the more relaxed acceptance of inter-racial pairings in contemporary society, the mindset of 1976 is still shocked to see people cross the threshold of their own race and willfully fall into the arms of someone from another race. These two conscious beings simply want to enjoy the reception, yet their consciousness can’t preclude the spectacle that their presence prompts. Yet despite the stares and comments, they smile brightly for the camera, defiant of their detractors who maliciously call foul of this couple.

                Happiness prevails from the lips of our lovers. They sit next to another, with youth favorably on their side. Huge bug eyed glasses coat the woman’s eyes like a sunset while her companions face is devoid of all but a look of sheer bliss. In one hand the woman presents us with a half-full glass of some unknown liquid. She cheers the good fortunes of the newly married couple. Yet it is the other hand that speaks of her true thoughts and emotions. We see her hand disappearing into the lap of the man, a gesture which evokes her need to touch him, to merge with him, to be frozen forever in time coupled with him. The mans smile cannot be contained, he tries to somewhat obscure it’s presence by positioning his hand in front of his mouth as if guilty of his good fortune. Yet even his large hand is swallowed by his enormous smile of happiness. In other photos from this series, couples smile for the camera, yet they physically separate themselves. They aquewardly touch for the camera, but these generic positions can’t delude us the fact that they would rather have their space. But this solitary inter-racial couple can’t seem to get close enough. Their close proximity seems natural, unforced, it appears that they would join into one being if physics permitted. Their presence as a couple is undeniable when making reference to only their picture, yet when viewed in the context of the body of the entire work, their feelings for each other overpower all other couples, even that of the bride and groom.

                The aesthetics of the 1970’s permeates all within the 4 by 6 inch dimensions of this tangible photo. The clothing worn by the lovers is overtly fashionable by disco standards and the Bee Gees can be silently heard as we engage the image. Yet despite the content, it is the medium that most dictates that this is a photograph from a by-gone era. There is a peculiar coloring that seems to coat much of the consumer film from the 1970’s. A subtle washing out of all colors matched with skin tones of a plastic appearance make it easy to detect the era but difficult to accept any content contained as being factual. It is this particular issue that causes this image to be coated in a bubble of kitsch. The color and content makes it more akin to an eccentric photo shoot then a captured moment of reality. The desire is for the image to be real, but it’s physical characteristics make this seem an impossibility. It is easier to write this image off as being an anomaly. Alas, being privy to the circumstances surrounding this image though we are left knowing that it is a factual, documentary photograph. Thus the truth that we desire is right before us.

                Knowing that the content is real, it must then be dissected. The image content seems simple, a couple situated at a table devoid of anything save for two tumblers. The photographer has left little to the imagination in terms of primary subject matter in his employment of a shallow depth of field. The couple is in focus, but everything else is coated in a blur. With little else to focus on, the couple become the subject by default. But their gazes, particularly the gaze of the woman, arrest the eyes of the viewer before anything else is analyzed. Despite her eyes being covered in glasses, these glasses seem to only further expand her gaze. Her eyes are mesmerizing, omnipresent, ever watchful. Thus we are forced to confront them. These eyes of passion, of happiness, of acceptance, embody  a new outlook. The eyes of the man are diverted, thus the woman, who embodies the dominant position within the image seems to use her eyes to allow both of them to see.  It is this specific positioning that brings further depth into the picture. By their contrasting body language and gazes, the viewer has no option but to accept the woman as being in control. The man acutely plays the role of the submissive. He diverts his gaze away from the world, and attempts to conceal his emotions as much as possible. The woman manifests herself into strength, aggression, the man presents
docility. There seems to be no power struggle, for she seems to retain all the power.

                There has always been an interesting sexual dynamic between races, myths usually being accepted as truth. The only way to distinguish between myth and truth is to investigate. No information is given which relays how long this depicted relationship had been a reality for, only speculation can fill any questions. Thus we don’t know whether this man and this woman had overcome the racial overtones which cover their relationship. Overtones which restrict them from seeing each other as humans first, races second. As if guilty by association, many individuals become engaged in relationships with people from other races, not because of specific, genuine feelings for that other person, but rather, because that other person fits certain stereotypes that are desired. Thus we don’t know if this couple falls into the trap of “believing the hype” as it were. Their relationship is obviously physical, as can be seen in their gentle merging of limbs. What isn’t known is if the relationship is only physical

                The key detail of this image is the depiction of harmonious inter-racial pairing. As there is no real information provided in addition to the visuals, all information concluded about the photograph is merely speculative. But there is no denying that happiness is present within this image. Happiness, true happiness, is not something that can be forged. Couples that are truly happy create an aura that is both invigorating and undeniable. While the exact dynamics of this inter-racial couple is unknown, there is no question that joy, and possibly love, are the key factors that keep (kept) them joined together. To overcome racial prejudices and to physically present oneself to the world as unique, takes both inner strength and courage. By declaring their feelings publicly, despite the possibility of ridicule, this couple inspires the belief that difference is not something to be discouraged, but rather something to be celebrated. The woman cheers to the camera, the man smiles coyly, not just gestures or poses, but rather acts of evolutionary process by their acceptance of difference, by their acceptance of each other. Harmony of the races has always been seen as a struggle, but this couple blatantly shows that harmony is possible and desirable.