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Refocusing America: American Society Through the Camera's Lens, 1945-2000
Unformatted Document Text:  Introduction Culture, according to Stuart Hall, is about `shared meanings’—meanings, which Clifford Geertz asserts, are “embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.” 1 Providing a forum in which meaning can be produced and disseminated, language is the lynchpin of culture. Within this critical discourse, deriving in part from structuralist analyses of cultural systems introduced by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, it is crucial to note the definition of language as not simply encapsulating the signification of the written word. A unique language inheres in visual imagery. While news pictures have been dubbed “the daily butter, if not the bread, of newspapers and magazines,” 2 there remains a void in scholarly literature analyzing the precise role of visual imagery in framing persons, places, and events within a particular social context. The post-World War II United States provides particularly fertile ground for such inquiry—a time when photographs proliferated in various forms of print media. Encompassing a period when America underwent a nationwide social and cultural conversion, the post-war era, moreover, offers a nexus of the formerly disparate political, social, and cultural realms. The spheres of the public and private merged, fundamentally altering the character of American society and subsequently the manner in which the media, more specifically photographers, depicted it. While it would be easy to assert that the media simply persisted during this period, relaying dominant `news’ to its readers and revealing national trends in society, politics, and culture, such a story of visual imagery, though inherently true, neglects to address the complexity of the news organization and the exogenous influences exerting pressure upon it. During the post-World War II era, photography in the New York Times, journalism’s archetypal daily, underwent both a quantitative and qualitative transformation. While editions of the Times published during the decade following the end of World War II revealed the dominance of politically 1 Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System.” In Michael Bunton, ed. Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion (London: Tavistick, 1965) 3. For a more detailed explication of `shared meanings’ see Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices ed. Stuart Hall (London: Thousand Oaks, 1997).

Authors: Maurantonio, Nicole.
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Introduction
Culture, according to Stuart Hall, is about `shared meanings’—meanings, which Clifford Geertz
asserts, are “embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by
means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward
life.”
1
Providing a forum in which meaning can be produced and disseminated, language is the lynchpin
of culture. Within this critical discourse, deriving in part from structuralist analyses of cultural systems
introduced by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, it is crucial to note the definition of language as not
simply encapsulating the signification of the written word. A unique language inheres in visual imagery.
While news pictures have been dubbed “the daily butter, if not the bread, of newspapers and
magazines,”
2
there remains a void in scholarly literature analyzing the precise role of visual imagery in
framing persons, places, and events within a particular social context. The post-World War II United
States provides particularly fertile ground for such inquiry—a time when photographs proliferated in
various forms of print media.
Encompassing a period when America underwent a nationwide social and cultural conversion,
the post-war era, moreover, offers a nexus of the formerly disparate political, social, and cultural realms.
The spheres of the public and private merged, fundamentally altering the character of American society
and subsequently the manner in which the media, more specifically photographers, depicted it.
While it would be easy to assert that the media simply persisted during this period, relaying
dominant `news’ to its readers and revealing national trends in society, politics, and culture, such a story
of visual imagery, though inherently true, neglects to address the complexity of the news organization
and the exogenous influences exerting pressure upon it.
During the post-World War II era, photography in the New York Times, journalism’s archetypal
daily, underwent both a quantitative and qualitative transformation. While editions of the Times
published during the decade following the end of World War II revealed the dominance of politically
1
Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System.” In Michael Bunton, ed. Anthropological Approaches to the
Study of Religion (London: Tavistick, 1965) 3. For a more detailed explication of `shared meanings’ see
Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices ed. Stuart Hall (London: Thousand Oaks,
1997).


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