Academic journal article American Studies

SEEING THROUGH RACE: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography

Academic journal article American Studies

SEEING THROUGH RACE: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography

Article excerpt

SEEING THROUGH RACE: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography. By Martin A. Berger. Berkley: University of California Press. 2011.

Martin Berger's Seeing through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography is a well-researched and nuanced analysis of iconic civil rights images depicting the struggle of African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama, during the sixties. In his groundbreaking work, Berger not only focuses on the significance of these visual images in garnering support for the black civil rights struggle, he pushes his readers to consider the ways that these documentary photographs of this important era reveal as much about whiteness as they do about blackness. In the tradition of other important works in critical race theory and critical whiteness studies, Berger illuminates "the role that the photographs played in managing whites' anxieties about race," but more specifically "how white journalists and their audiences selected, framed, and responded to the most famous scenes of the civil rights era" (6).

Seeing through Race relies on close readings of the coverage of both the white and black press to buttress his argument that the consistent use of certain photographs was part of a complex assertion of an acceptable "menu of narratives that performed reassuring symbolic work" (6). According to Berger, such narratives emphasizing the brutality of powerful whites against helpless blacks not only worked to garner support for the civil rights struggle, they served to reaffirm white power and privilege. Berger contrasts the consistent choice of images depicting peaceful, middle-class protestors and helpless children being attacked with hoses and vicious dogs with photographs of clear instances of black resistance and agency. …

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