Photography, Communication, and the Women’s March

A woman and man interacting during the Women's March with the capitol building in the background.
A photo taken at the Women’s March On January 21, 2016. Taken by me.

I attended the Women’s March last Saturday, January 21st, 2017. This is one of the many powerful pictures I had the opportunity to capture that day.

Because this medium captures human expression in a photograph rather than in writing, it produces meaning differently. It produces meaning by directly linking an event to an audience that may not be there in that exact moment. How effectively the photograph is able to teleport its audience to that one moment in time is part of what makes the image powerful. However, that’s exactly what almost all photographs do one way or another. Photographs therefore must distinguish themselves from others by quite literally moving their audience. They must make them feel something, anything, and to do this, photographers manipulate elements like color, contrast, focus, and framing. That’s what I was taught in my photography class, at least.

The sky is grey, cold, and muddy. That just happened to be the weather that day. The people are not. The colors they wear, primarily pink, are relatively bright. Even their skin looks warm as if they had light emanating from inside of them. There are words I guess because of the signs, but they’re out of focus. On either side of the photograph, there is a person directly communicating with the other. The only thing that separates these slightly raised figures above the crowd is the United States Capitol building. But so far, I’ve stated the obvious.

The focus, however, is really only on those two people communicating. The crowd, despite being at the foreground of the picture, isn’t in focus. The signs, although you can probably still make out what they say, are out of focus. The Capitol is not only out of focus, but also all the way in the background. But how do the subjects seem to be communicating? One is pointing at the other and the other is confused. One is a white woman and the other, a white man. She’s wearing a pink vest that mirrors the intensely saturated pink being worn by the crowd. This indirectly communicates that she is of the crowd, she shares their cause, and she represents them in the interaction she’s engaging in with another being. The man, on the other hand, looks like he doesn’t have a clue. His body language indicates that he probably didn’t expect her to respond to him so fiercely and whatever they’re talking about, he probably doesn’t even have a clue. Although he is also elevated from the crowd in the forefront, he’s not wearing pink or any unique color. He’s not wearing anything to signify he is with them other than the simple fact that he is there. Interestingly, he looks more like the grey skies and the looming building behind him.

By these markers, this moment from the Women’s March on Washington displays a woman, with all the energy of the crowd is directing a powerful message at him, a man that visually represents the establishment behind him. It’s almost as if she’s convicting him.

But I’ve got some explaining to do. While visuals are the most effective and direct form of communication, they can be equally deceiving. As the photographer, I’ve manipulated elements of the photograph to display exactly that message. The photograph is not only an expression of the subjects within it, it’s not only the expression of that one moment in time, but is also an expression of the photographer. Nothing in a photograph that’s not either thrown away or deleted isn’t deliberate. I’ve intentionally captured, framed, and manipulated the cast of colors to deliver a message of energy, conflict, and vulnerability. Furthermore, the man could have very well just been lost and the woman could have just been giving him directions for all I know, but that perspective is lost due to the way the photo was crafted. Instead, I’ve interjected my own narrative about what I felt at that time. I felt I was full of life and energy and frustration at the incoming administration. The Women’s March allowed me to protest and express my views both legally and safely. Photography, like writing, is just another outlet.

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