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The Significance of Context in Photographs

In A Photograph Never Stands Alone, Teju Cole (2017) talks about the way in which photographs intricately paint pictures within contexts, rather than being stand-alone aesthetic pieces. Photographs are ironic; on the one hand, they constitute art. On the other, they are also one of the most accurate forms of historical representation. Cole (2017) makes this observation, saying it can be difficult for the viewer to distinguish between the hard-lined cotton pickers—the debasement of African American slave laborers—and the beautiful curves of their rucksacks. The following is a review of the article, as well as a summation of its key themes.

            What is great about Cole’s article is that the author fails to make any moral judgments about the photos, which is eerie but also refreshing. In a world where judgments about colonialism are rampant, where someone is always the colonizer and victimizer, Cole makes no victims and no victimizers. The author simply makes observations about what photographs show; they show intricate webs of narrative, each one connected to the next. For instance, while Cole does not provide much of a back story for the Mexican female migrant picking tomatoes, he expects us to understand its message.

            Part of Cole’s plan is to present a story in images, rather than just words, and piece together the images by talking about how each one came about. As mentioned, other than making brief remarks about the cotton pickers being debased black men Cole primarily reveals the historical background and how each image came to me. He is more about recounting names, dates and objective facts than unpacking the ethical implications and considerations of each photograph. As such, he presents a story in images (with some words for cohesion).

            One important point Cole brings up is the marriage between real historical events that have happened and aesthetics, or art. Art is beautiful and catching to the eye, and photography has long since been considered a worthy form of it. Cole describes the Cotton Pickers photo as an aesthetic piece: “Set against the field’s darkness, the cotton crop is floral in effect, or astral” (Cole, 2017). At the same time, the photo has real historical significance because it shows the way African Americans were exploited in the US South, even during the 1960s. Cole thus shows the viewer that a photograph can be both historical and aesthetic.

            Which one is more important—art or history? Cole (2017) reminds us that it is not necessary to choose, for art can be history and vice versa. The gold miners in Sara Pelada, Brazil are perfectly lined up, with bags on their tired bags, mining for gold. Their sculpted backs visually show toil and trouble—exhausting and physically draining work—and they are, at the same time, making history by participating in one of Brazil’s most perilous and prosperous times. Indeed, Sara Pelada has an interesting history: those who entered the mine for gold hardly ever left, becoming slaves to gold (Rare Historical Photos, 2017).

            Cole (2017) wants to make a daring statement about colonialism, bringing together all the photos in his article to present a quilt about the reality of government oppression. The woman harvesting tomatoes is forced to do so, and the cotton pickers were coerced into picking cotton because of the discriminatory American structure. The tired workers climbing the rungs of the Sara Pelada mines were initially contracted to mine gold, but were later made into slaves by the Brazilian corporate empire that owned them (Cole, 2017). All photographs suggest that colonialism functions and operates on the backs of the vulnerable and exploited.

            Cole’s title is also apt. In saying that a ‘photograph never stands alone,’ the author is asserting that all these stories intricately paint a picture of a larger system of colonialism. Even though the images were all taken at different times and in different parts of the world, they nevertheless paint pictures of oppression. These are the tired souls of those who were churned out by the government, and by profit motives. No one cared for their lives. In this way, the photographs are not stand-alone representations of colonialism, but work together to convey a deeper message and theme about exploitation and oppression.

            Another interesting feature of Cole’s article is his examination of the style and structure of each photograph, and the representation of blasting the human spirit to a symmetrical oblivion. What does this mean? Each photograph is beautiful because it is symmetrical, with parallel lines and carefully, neatly lined up humans doing grunt labor. This may look pleasing to the eye, but it also illustrates how dehumanizing oppressive labor was, and how people were reduced to workers whose bodies were arranged into lines and squares and circles. In other words, humans became mere shapes to be categorized and moved by their superiors.

            Overall, the piece by Cole is beautiful because the author presents a comprehensive idea of colonialism and human subjugation without saying much or making moral statements. Art speaks for itself, he wants to say. When it does, it often reveals—without even intending to—cruel elements of the human spirit. Perhaps, what the author could have included was some additional commentary on each photograph or longer aesthetic descriptions, but this would ruin the piece’s simple presentation and overall motives—to allow the reader to see.

The Significance of Context in Photographs

The first primary source is ‘Colonialism and Ant colonialism’ a manual for the liberation in the 21st century. The source discusses the following units of importance concerning the resistance in North America. These issues include; Decline of Roman/USSR/USA, Mexico and southwest, the insurgency in Iraq and also crisis, conflict and resistance.

In this source, the anti-colonial resistance was to liberate the oppressed by giving them the ultimate use and ownership of their land and at the same time full gain of their territories. It is argued that, In North America, the anti-colonial issues were facilitated by both internal and external factors (Ashcroft et al., 2013).  These resistances led to the decline of the Roman Empire, Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and also the USA.

Moreover, Ancient Rome which had risen over 1000 years collapsed due to the fact that it could not resist the ongoing revolts by slaves and peasants. While on the other hand, the soldiers who had been posted to the frontiers could not halt the growing tribal issues at that moment. However, USSR was the second largest super-power after the USA but broke into a losing battle which led to the wasting of billions and at the same time demoralization. Their economy ended up worsening leading to the collapse and the declaration of the independence of many republics.

The USA faces both internal and external threats though seemingly appearing powerful. Internally, it is more polarized characterized by a widespread rebellion and resistance. In the US it is believed that the blacks have been the major initiators of the domestic resistance since at least 1950s (Chrisman & Williams, 2015). Despite these rebellion issues, it is difficult to conceive resistance masses to the system in North America under present social conditions (i Berdún et al., 2010).

  The second primary source is “The Resistance movement of 1765-1776; Sons of Liberty” The source discusses the resistance between Great Britain and its colonies and can be attributed to developments that took place between 1764 and 1776. The first act that led to this was the development of the Revenue Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765 which was implemented to raise revenue from the colonies in order to cut debts incurred from the French and Indian war. These were in favor of Great Britain against its colonies.

Secondly, another issue that created tension was the attempt of the Great Britain trial of imposing the remote rule and governs its colonies from abroad. These were due to the fact that the colonies in North America had been subjects of the crown and had been previously granted flexibility and also developed a greater false sense of autonomy (Young, 2016). However, when revenue-generating and regulations act was imposed on the Colonies, rumbling of resistance began to appear.

 Moreover, On April 5, 1764, there was the enactment of the sugar act. Through the enactment, Great Britain attempted to generate revenue from the colonies. The act was proposed by George Grenville, who was the head of treasury. He was greatly concerned that the financial stability of Great Britain was greatly diminishing due to the burden following the seven-year war. The measure of bureaucracy created by the custom was taken to be an inconvenience by American smugglers but was not an alteration to their activities rather it was the utilization of the Royal Navy to enforce the regulations that created the greatest impediment.

The Marriage of Art and History in Photography

The source further continues to state that another factor that contributed to rising up of the resistance movement was the Great Britain perception that the colonies were children of the mother country therefore were to be subordinate despite their economic and political maturation. This act of contempt of superiority on the side of the British generated a feeling of resistance of the side of the colonies and the desire of being recognized. Therefore, the colonies may have been guided by their individual desires but they shared a common opposition to the whole idea of taxation

In conclusion, basing on the two primary sources it is true to say that anti-resistant movements were caused by the oppression of natives. This was widely witnessed in North America.

In the book, “Breaching the colonial contract”, Anti-colonialism is viewed as the resistance of the oppressed group from the dominant colonial power. In North America, the resistance movement brought about a wide historical geography that has ever been witnessed around the world. Furthermore, the oppressed were being denied their rights based on their ethnic group, religious beliefs, language, disability and race and also in terms of gender.

Despite the fact that the colonizers dominated the northern regions and established their settlements, they had to face Anti-colonial difficulties as the oppressed formed a resistance movement which was against colonialism at all cost (Grove, 2017). Additionally, the Americans including the indigenous people could not keep silence or assume the type of regime that was being ruled on them. This book is a combination of details that reveal the art of resistance and refusal of the Americans’ to accept domination by the European colonial power. It defines self -commitment of individuals to participate in community unionism and ensure social justice prevails.

In the magazine, “Social Text”, published in the United States, Anti-colonialism was revealed to be a new awakening of the North American and the indigenous people around the scope. It brought about a geopolitical and historical resistance movement which marked the end of colonialism among the North Americans. Additionally, it is argued that colonial domination had taken much power and control among the oppressed leading to a fight for independence (Sium et al., 2012).

Most regions had been occupied by European power and authority subdivided in terms of provinces depriving away the rights of the indigenous people and their cultures. In addition, to fight the Colonial power, unity among the oppressed was vital. It is believed that the resistance was the only tool to fight off the unwanted colonial government and it took so long for the colonialists’ to hang their boots. Nevertheless, this magazine depicts the social unity used to fight for independence and describes the historical geographies of the colonialists’ (Veracini, 2013).

In the book chapter, “The Politics of Resistance”, colonialism is termed as a way of suppressing someone’s own interests and desires to do something within his own freedom. It creates an environment which not only deprives one of his creativity but also makes it difficult for him to resist. In North America, colonialism witnessed stiff resistance from the Americans as the Europeans tried to own most territories in the region. It is argued that the most intellect indigenous people formed movements and parties which were against the colonial oppression (Keith & Pile, 2013).

This witnessed a number of massacres, hunger, diseases and loss of properties such as lands. On the other hand, there was a lot of mistreatment and abuse of power by the colonial imposers as their interests and will to dominate the northern regions was facing a lot of struggles and refusal by the North Americans and the elite indigenous groups. In addition, this chapter focuses on the struggle for independence by the North Americans.

In the article, “Colonial Genocide in Northern America”, the geographical and historical information concerning colonialism is well depicted as described by the Anti-colonial Resistance Movement in North America. It is believed that anti-colonialism was brought by an attempt of the USA government and Canada to try to exploit the indigenous people by building schools which were used to motivate children to join their forces and conquer other territories as a means of expanding their settlement and becoming more powerful in the region (Lewis, 2012).

It is believed that North Americans were forced to humiliate and take control of the indigenous people by collaborating with the colonial power (Adas, 2012). On the other hand, it witnessed a number of deaths, land displacement, diseases and stripping off of power controlled by the indigenous communities. In that era, most of the Americans demanded their own rights and they were the harsh British rule leading to more resistance.

Basing on the above researches and content, the question which arises is; what was the impact of the anti-colonial resistant movement in North America? 

Reference

Berdún, M. M. G., Guibernau, M., & Rex, J. (Eds.). (2010). The ethnicity reader: Nationalism, multiculturalism and migration. Polity.

Grove, R. H. (2017). Colonial conservation, ecological hegemony and popular resistance: towards a global synthesis. In Imperialism and the natural world. Manchester University Press.

Young, R. J. (2016). Postcolonialism: An historical introduction. John Wiley & Sons.

Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G., & Tiffin, H. (2013). Post-colonial studies: The key concepts. Routledge.

Lewis, A. G. (2012). Ethics, activism and the anti-colonial: Social movement research as resistance. Social Movement Studies, 11(2), 227-240.

Sium, A., Desai, C., & Ritskes, E. (2012). Towards the'tangible unknown': Decolonization and the Indigenous future. Decolonization: indigeneity, education & society, 1(1).

Keith, M., & Pile, S. (Eds.). (2013). Geographies of resistance. Routledge.

Chrisman, L., & Williams, P. (2015). Colonial discourse and post-colonial theory: A reader. Routledge.

Adas, M. (2012). Prophets of rebellion: Millenarian protest movements against the European colonial order. UNC Press Books.

Veracini, L. (2013). ‘Settler colonialism’: Career of a concept. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 41(2), 313-333.

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