January 18, 2009

And, After The Train Goes By

_MG_3469raw.jpg _MG_3478raw.jpg

I’ve been thinking overnight about the “Freedom Train” edit I posted last night, and even my adoption of that phrase.

On reflection, I can see how much I got pulled right into the romanticization (and, like Andrew Sullivan, the Fusco-ization) of the Obama train ride to Washington. I should add that I don’t mean “pulled” in a strictly cynical way. Obviously, this train trip rallied citizens, and the images evidence the profound hope and pride Obama is inspiring, especially in racially mixed or predominantly African-American poor and middle class towns and neighborhoods.

That said, however, it is all too easy to get swept up in the singular imagery and narrative of hope and dreams. That is why I thought it worthy to post these other two images Matt Lutton filed.

In the top photo, we see citizens milling around, the excitement over, people mostly passing by a table of Obama memorabilia in returning to the neighborhood, and their daily lives. In the second shot, we see two people, African-Americans, walking toward Matt, the person in the foreground bundled in a brown hood, a scarf and a black mask, while seeming to consider Matt warily.

…And if the look is wariness, why shouldn’t that be the case? As the visual media — during this whistle-stop tour, and over the inauguration festivities in the next few days — spends a good deal of time capturing inspired and ecstatic black faces, it will be on Obama’s shoulders alone (but certainly, not the media’s) to remind us how little we otherwise see of what happens before and after the train goes by.

And then, there is another dimension to the second image that is important to address. The fact this black face is wearing a black face warmer or ski mask, and casting a questioning look at the photographer, seems suggestive of the way African-Americans remain all-too-easily stereotyped by America and American visual media. As I mentioned in my “Starting Off At The Chili Bowl” post the other day, part of taking on the visual challenge of an Obama presidency is to also take, head-on, the dynamics of race in the visual media.

Along those lines, I’m glad Matt included this photo. Because, as much as all Americans are prepared to open their hearts to the images of African-Americans feeling a deep and special pride this week, one must not overlook (as the good feeling train rolls by) how much — either historically or on any other given day — the media’s perception of black faces can be as much more reflective of darkness, of “the other,” of suspicion, of the mask.

Paul Fusco RFK Funeral Train (Magnum)

NYT Slideshow: A Whistle-Stop Trip to Washington , WAPO Slideshow: Next Stop, The White House

(h/t: Kat)

(images © MattLutton.com)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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