In this photograph, the notion that “photography is always subject to the prevailing political, economic, and social conditions of its time” is addressed in a manner that documents the people of Bristol in relation to the current events of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Dexter,2003). However, after discussing the photograph during one of the workshops, it became evident to me that the photographic composition combined with the colour editing leads to the portrayal of two completely different outlooks on the attitudes of the subjects photographed beneath the flag, depending on the viewer’s own point of view and personal opinion.
The style of the photograph is subjective documentary relating to Robert Frank’s work, which often portrayed people obliviously standing in front of street signs that imply something about their identities, drawing on how this particular type of photography “turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed” (Sontag, 1979). The first view of the subjects’ attitudes towards the conflict is oblivious support: all four women were awaiting the arrival of their bus while standing right underneath the flag, all dressed in black- which could be seen as solidarity with the dead civilians of the occupied country. In this context, the contrast of colours between the vibrant flag and its monochrome surroundings works as a way of fortifying the unity of the Bristolian street in support of the Palestinian cause; the city is submerged in monochrome, but the dream of freedom soars high and in full colours.
In comparison to this point of view, the contrasting colour tones of the flag and its surroundings can instead imply the complete disparity between the subjects of the photograph and the political conflict that’s occurring, and the failure of the two worlds to converge into one. The vertical composition of the photograph also leads the eye towards noticing the gap between the people and the flag, which may symbolise the physical distance between the two continents. Another aspect of the photograph that reinforces this point of view is the direction in which the three women are looking simultaneously, despite this being an un-staged candid photograph, which contrasts with the direction in which the peace pigeon graffiti on the wall is depicted to be flying. In this context, this directional divergence symbolises how the subjects could be turning a blind eye to the plea of peace.
The contrast between these two perceptions attempts to highlight the idea that “no representation is simply a representation of reality: it is always a reality seen from a particular perspective or subject position,” and that documentary photography shows the truth seen by the photographer’s eye rather than the objective viewpoint expected (photomedia, 2014). The overall result of this photograph is to portray the multi-dimensional layers of identities that could be presented by combining bystanders on the street with an overlaying sign and exploring the implications this combinations may lead to.
Dexter, E. (2003) Photography Itself. In: Dexter, E. (2003) Cruel and Tender: Photography and the Real. London: Tate Publishing.
Photomedia Reader. (2014) Reality and Representation. In Social Types and Representations. Pp 5-9.
Sontag, S. (1979) On Photography. London: Penguin.