There are so many good examples where photography has made an impact on society and even “changed the world” shaping popular world views and opinions, I found it almost impossible to choose from the hundreds of photographs I found on Life, picture post or google. Most of the images I came across on the topic “world changing photography” were negative, almost all of them in fact!. Photography containing some sort of violence, war, death or discrimination. Images evoke strong emotions, have the power to shock and drive people to make a defense to a cause. Some might say myself included that it’s the negativity of the image that moves people to take definitive steps to make a difference no matter how big or small not even knowing that somewhere down the line there actions will be embraced as one of those defining moment that changed the world.
This Essay will look at two examples where seemingly insignificant people helped shape a troubled decade’s view and opinions in the united states of a America during the 1960’s
It was a time of great change and uncertainty in the United States towards the end of the 1960 and begging of the 1970s. Movements like African-American Civil Rights Movement outlawing racial discrimination against black Americans, allowing them to have voting rights. The Chicano Civil Rights Movement, also known as El Movimiento was a similar movement in the African-American Civil Rights Movement aimed at rights for American citizens of Mexican descent. (The Revolt of the Cockroach People by Oscar Zeta Acosta 1972 )
The Antiwar movement perhaps one of the largest moving across the united states during the 1960 and early 1970’s uniting all ethnicity’s to one common cause. Ending the war in Vietnam. Military focuses had been deployed to Vietnam to fight what looked to be a “vendetta war” Citizens had begun to lose faith in government decisions and its elected officials. Young Americans from all walks of life were draft to war and many of them sustained horrific injury, Lost limbs’ or just did not make it home at all. Media coverage gave the impression that the war was, Just and that the United states would be victorious, the public on the other hand were not convicted many believing the war could not be won and American troops were dying unnecessarily. The Vietnam antiwar movement saw many peaceful protest rallies meant to inspire peace, equal rights and freedom often turned hostile.
Protests of this nature became a conman place during in the mid sixties and it was one of these protests that gave one of the most iconic images of its generation. “Flower Power”. 250,000 protesters turned out to the United states pentagon Head of military operations on October 21st 1967. Protesters faced 2,500 armed soldiers who expected the crowds to turn violent. One person in attendance for this particular protest rally was “Bernie Boston” a photographer working at that time for the Washington Star.
In an interview dated November 2009 Mr Boston remembers the events of the day he captured possibly his most iconic image. “I was Not part of the hippie movement but in a certain way I admire them, I mean how is it possible to be against people believing in a non-violence ideology.”
Boston could not persuade his editors of the shot’s potential impact. They buried it inside the front section. Adding to his frustration, his car tires were slashed at the protest, and a bouquet of flowers was placed under his windshield wipers. (The Washington Post – Thursday, January 24, 2008)
By Bernie Boston
I started to analyze the photograph looking from both sides of the weapons, looking at the different way the public might think about the image both in a the soldiers possible standpoint and the social implications too.
On one hand the protesters are standing up for what they believed to be a corrupt government and decisions. The young man carrying the bunch of flowers “George Harris” placing the flower in the barrel of the rifle making a peaceful statement, could George’s actions have been seen as pompous or foolish? Many of the men in the scene look to be young students and are blatantly unarmed. I can imagine the atmosphere would have been a tense especially at the moment George made his move reaching for the weapon to place his flower. From the point of view of the army They had been frequently called out to Antiwar protest and with this particular being on a significant government building 2,500 soldiers were there in force expecting things to get out of hand. From the body language many of the Soldiers in this image seem to look rather uncomfortable, this suggests to me it was a tense moment for everyone involved. The First Soldier already with a flower sitting in the barrel of his rifle confuses me. On first glance I thought he might have been removing the flower from his gun or securing? It would not surprise me to think that many of the armed focus present on October 21st 1967 held much the same beliefs opinions as the protesters as far as the war was concerned. It’s likely lots of them had friends and family who were overseas themselves.
From a social viewpoint you can see why this image became one of the most iconic of its time. Its shows how one person can change the world views making his point peacefully and in a nonviolent way and sums up this generation and movement with a phase we still use and springs to mind when talking about this era. Flower Power.
Some of the Antiwar protest did gave birth to some slightly more shocking world changing photography for my second image I would like to look at one such image.
By John Filo
During an antiwar protest in 4th March 1970 at Kent State University United Sates of America four Students lost their lives in what was supported to be a peaceful protest. Two of the student shot by the Ohio National Guard were not even taking part in the protest but were making their way to class. Students had been protesting the USAs plans to invade Cambodia and over the period of a couple of days the protests begun to become disruptive a fire broke out at the ROTC building and at this point the National Guard was called to disperse the crowds.
The Photo taken by John Filo a young undergraduate working in the Kent State photo laboratory He had been watching the protesters with keen interest as the protest built to the day of the shootings. On the 4th March at John crossed the car park he saw Mary Vecchio waving her arms and crying over what looked to him like a body. He took the photograph as he had been carrying his camera around with him since the protest began. A few days later he sent the images to a small newspaper in Pennsylvania. (John Flilo Audio interview)
This image had a huge social effect on the general public. Not only were US citizens dying abroad but on home soil too. The war had taken its toll on the united states and once the general public had seen the images taken at Kent State university. People’s opinions to bring troops home and end the war in Vietnam.
From what I can find out this image was taken along with around four or five others showing protesters, the national guard rushing to what looks to be a disturbance in the distance and shooting tear gas into the crowds. The most shocking and influential image from this series is defiantly the photograph of the body of Jeffrey Miller.
In October 2012 Kent state held an event to remember Jeffrey Miller and his fellow students who died following the events of that day 40 years ago in 1970. The events of the day were never fully explained and exactly how the shooting occurred. In an interview with ex students and staff members at Kent state share their memories and experiences. “Some students today know that an important event happened here, others are not quite as aware,” said Laura Davis, the center’s director. (Video interview Fox8 News)
For most who grew up in this area or witnessed the event first hand this was the day America killed its children. They remember that this was a cause worth fighting for and even though Jeffery Millers life was cut tragically short. He did more for his country than he would know.
The first image shows how protest can change people’s minds and the way they look at situations and deploy nonviolent methods to making your point. Make love not war being the ethos of many people in the 1960’s In some respects I like the idea that the soldiers were embracing this by accepting the flowers. This might not have been this case for every soldier, the ones in the image by Bernie Boston I’m still unsure. I would like to think that they were.
John Filo’s Image on the other hand demonstrates how Photography can be used to shape peoples’ opinions showing many different powerful emotions. Filo’s image makes has aspects of Truth, Violence and Loss. Truth because It shown how the US government had lost control, attacking anyone in their way even their own citizens, was this what happened when you use the right to free speech? Many people started to question the Government motives and the war came to an end in 1975 five years after the shootings at Kent State.
Coming to my conclusion I feel the two images I have chosen are both iconic and world view changing. They in several different ways have both strong political and social implications. They demonstrate the power of one persons actions, freedom and embodies the spirit of its generation. It’s hardly surprising that both John Filo and Bernie Boston won the polaris prize for their works. as both photographs are still remembered and discussed today.
Both photographs I find very moving. John Filo’s for the sadness of the image, Mary Vecchio knelt down next to Jeffery Millers body shouting for help. The officials who were employed to protect US citizens were the ones attacking. Bernie Boston’s image is what most people think the 1960’s and the 1970’s were like it’s a nostalgic image that seems to capture the spirit of the time. And how normal people can help shape the world.
Writing this Essay made me think how I myself and other people thought or imagined this era, google 1960’s summer of love or flower power and most the results are stereotypical or for comedy effect. Hippies and peace signs but the truth is this was a time for making history. It also started me thinking about the crashing wave speech by Dr Hunter S Thompsons book Fear and loathing in Las Vegas. It’s a one paragraph of writing that I have admired ever since I first read it, I think it says a lot about the feeling of this time.
“USA in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.” ( Book Fear and Loathing Dr Hunter S Thompson)