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On the Intransigence of Transit: Marian Anderson’s Performance in News Pictures

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Abstract:

This talk grapples with the difficulty of studying news photographs. Due to the limited documentation of their production and their ephemerality, historians tend to contextualize them primarily within the reports they illustrate, which allows the periodicals’ tendentious meanings to inform, and often displace, the visual evidence offered by the photographs themselves.
In an effort to suggest a way of recuperating the historicity visible in news photographs, I focus on one image from 1939 of Marian Anderson silhouetted against the crowds that gathered to hear her famous Lincoln Memorial recital, a photograph that circulated in numerous newspapers of the day. Naturally, historians have turned to these periodicals when studying the historic concert. Recognizing that editorials, reports, and letters firmly establish the concert as a form of racial protest, they have then explored archives that help expose how this meaning took shape. For example, some have focused on the NAACP’s scrupulous orchestration of the concert and Anderson’s tacit participation in the organization’s work. Yet even as they reveal the construction of the concert’s meaning, they often leave that meaning unquestioned. This allows their histories of the concert’s representation to appear as if they are histories of the concert itself.
By exploring the photograph through a rather different set of archives — maps, recordings of the concert, documents on race relations in Washington, and reports on the changing shape of the Mall — I find that the transitory world of the concert can be located in the photograph nonetheless. To do so, I abandon the standard, semantic approach to photographic meaning and instead work to construct a thicker, more material understanding of the world the photograph depicts: the massive, mix-raced crowd that gathered in segregated Washington, the Mall’s recently modernized landscape, the conspicuous presence of the media that would, as described, help furnish that day’s meaning, and the poignancy of Anderson’s songs. This focus restores to the image a palpable sense of melancholy and loss that has largely been displaced by the conventional interpretation of the concert as a proto-civil rights triumph.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508685_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Feman, Seth. "On the Intransigence of Transit: Marian Anderson’s Performance in News Pictures" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508685_index.html>

APA Citation:

Feman, S. "On the Intransigence of Transit: Marian Anderson’s Performance in News Pictures" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508685_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: This talk grapples with the difficulty of studying news photographs. Due to the limited documentation of their production and their ephemerality, historians tend to contextualize them primarily within the reports they illustrate, which allows the periodicals’ tendentious meanings to inform, and often displace, the visual evidence offered by the photographs themselves.
In an effort to suggest a way of recuperating the historicity visible in news photographs, I focus on one image from 1939 of Marian Anderson silhouetted against the crowds that gathered to hear her famous Lincoln Memorial recital, a photograph that circulated in numerous newspapers of the day. Naturally, historians have turned to these periodicals when studying the historic concert. Recognizing that editorials, reports, and letters firmly establish the concert as a form of racial protest, they have then explored archives that help expose how this meaning took shape. For example, some have focused on the NAACP’s scrupulous orchestration of the concert and Anderson’s tacit participation in the organization’s work. Yet even as they reveal the construction of the concert’s meaning, they often leave that meaning unquestioned. This allows their histories of the concert’s representation to appear as if they are histories of the concert itself.
By exploring the photograph through a rather different set of archives — maps, recordings of the concert, documents on race relations in Washington, and reports on the changing shape of the Mall — I find that the transitory world of the concert can be located in the photograph nonetheless. To do so, I abandon the standard, semantic approach to photographic meaning and instead work to construct a thicker, more material understanding of the world the photograph depicts: the massive, mix-raced crowd that gathered in segregated Washington, the Mall’s recently modernized landscape, the conspicuous presence of the media that would, as described, help furnish that day’s meaning, and the poignancy of Anderson’s songs. This focus restores to the image a palpable sense of melancholy and loss that has largely been displaced by the conventional interpretation of the concert as a proto-civil rights triumph.


Similar Titles:
Aesthetics, Geo-Politics, and Ethics of World News Pictures: Narratives and Meta-Narratives of ‘Good Picture’ Slideshows

Critically Analyzing the U.S. News Media: An Analysis of Scholarship and Models of U.S. News Media Performance on Reporting of U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights

Transitioning Labor and Transitional Place – Immersive Performative and Interactive Ethnographies in Online Networks


 
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