Shattered Dreams of American Photograph (Visual Review)

During the 1980s, a familiar scene from the Great Depression existed in America. Simultaneously, and perhaps in spite of it, many Americans were unaware and little to no action was done, resulting in affecting American farmers. David Peterson, a photojournalist, was in Iowa during this farmers crisis. He captured and collected photos with similar messages like the one depicted here.

Regardless of which direction your eyes first land on, the photograph is framed at an angle, so our focus draws on the distressed woman. Her face contorted, her fingers clenched, her nose scrunched, her lips caught in mid-sentence, it’s evident to me that she’s aching. On the left, the two individuals stand behind her, mirroring the pain without needing to visibly see her. The man with the hat, despite his distance from the distraught woman, looks at her with empathy. His face, like hers, is twisted in a way to show his shared disdain. The older looking woman standing rather closer to the subject, shows her support for the moment captured, simply with her being there.

I presume it was more of a hassle for the older woman to stand where she stands and attend the event. Her unknown but more than likely troubling travel to that spot adds to the importance of everyone’s shared sorrow. On the right, above the main subject’s shoulder, it seems as if the woman built the courage to look up. Out of all the visible individuals standing behind the woman speaking, the woman on the right is the only one who looks in the same direction. The third woman, on the bottom right, simply looks away from the direction in which the primary woman speaks. It looks as if she’s on the verge of refraining from whatever she’s been fighting for.

Shot in black and white, I’d argue that the lack of color adds meaning to Mr. Peterson’s message. Color in a photograph usually leads to a variety of assumptions. I think the absences of color therefore allows the viewer to focus on the distressed facial expressions and body language of the subjects. As a result, I find myself focusing on how the group of people felt and what previous battles they had to fight leading up to this point, as opposed to simply admiring their wardrobe. Although the black and white does allow the viewer to contextualize the moment based on facial expressions and body language, I think the amount of light exhibited also strengthens this message.

Along with the level of exposure, the shutter speed and the fact that David Peterson freezes the subject’s fist and essentially stops all motion helps paint the moment in a more sentimental light. Additionally, the deep depth of field focus clarifies that this moment is led by masses of people rather than one particular person. In other words, if David Peterson chose to use a shallow depth of field, the message would change. In most instances, when a historical moment, event or occurrence revolves around one particular individual, using a shallow depth of field will reinforce their leadership in the photograph. Alternatively, when a photographer utilizes deep focus to shape the message, like in this case, we can understand who plays a big role in the moment.

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