The Eyes Have It

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The Eyes Have It

Type: Master thesis
Title: The Eyes Have It
Author: Putman Cramer, May Carolien
Issue Date: 2017-08-31
Keywords: African-American
Civil Rights Movement
LaToya Ruby Frazier
Dana Lixenberg
participatory mode
observational mode
modes of documentary
Bill Nichols
Abstract: The portrayal of African Americans in mainstream media has subjected us to a succession of images which depict poverty, crime, violence and suffering but omit the circumstances of quotidian life which lie beneath the stereotypes of towns in Northern America. The complicated and often frustrating history of African Americans has played a material role in the discourse of black representation. Today, the majority of poorer African American communities inhabit the outskirts of larger cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Here, they seek to create a comfortable environment for themselves and their families. However, given that the history and experience of African American life has frequently been portrayed in the media as being at odds with that of white communities, it is unlikely that they will be left to pursue their lives freely and independently, especially when black men and boys are coupled with criminality and violence, and there is increased public support for a more rigorous approach to policing and punishment. Contemporary black representations provoke debate because they bring the material world to life. What is more, these photographic images also liberate the viewer’s mind by offering previously unknown facts and information. While the media focuses on communities when there is violence to be written about, once the violence subsides, communities like Braddock and Watts are left to their own devices, with little or no attention being paid to the bigger picture of social and economic disparity. The cause of these communities has been taken up by local photographers like LaToya Ruby Frazier and Western photographers like Dana Lixenberg, with both women taking particular interest in the documentation of life as an African American living in an unforgiving environment. Frazier meshes her work in photography with human rights activism to create visibility for the African American communities, while Lixenberg seeks to counter stereotypical images of these communities. This paper will focus on Frazier’s The Notion Of Family and Lixenberg’s Imperial Courts. Rather than dwelling on the negativity and violence that has historically been associated with the communities’ state of being, the two photographers have chosen to produce images of African Americans which stand as visual resistance to prevailing negative black stereotypes. The shared aim of both photographic projects is to counter the negative stereotypes that circulate the media today, and is the reason for choosing these projects. Given the shared aim, the photographers might be expected to adopt a similar approach to documenting their subjects. This paper will consider whether the photographers’ approach is indeed the same and, on the basis of the observations made, will carry out a further comparison of the methodology used by Frazier and Lixenberg respectively in the field of representation of African Americans. When examining the bodies of work of Frazier and Lixenberg, specific consideration will be given to the photographers’ divergent cultural backgrounds, the historical representation of African Americans and the role that the ‘observational’ and ‘participatory modes’ play within this discourse of representation.
Supervisor: de Ruiter, M.A.
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Department: Media Studies (Master)
Specialisation: MA Film & Photographic Studies
ECTS Credits: 20

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