Discussion Topic: Photographing the Beginning of the Civil Rights Movement

Robert Frank, Trolley, New Orleans, 1955 from The Americans

Will Counts, Hazel Bryan and Elizabeth Eckford, Little Rock, AK, 1957







This week, I would like you to consider two photographic works taken at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s. In 1955, Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank traveled across the country taking photographs of people. Unbeknownst to him was the impact his photographs would have in their published form, The Americans (1958/1959). Described as “un-American” or as a “sad poem by a very sick person,” The Americans captured the social undercurrents of life in the 1950s. Frank’s unique style was highly influential to following generations of photographers. His photographs often revealed a social divide between blacks and whites in America, a rift that his critics did not wish acknowledge. Just two years later, a phenomenal photograph was taken on the first day of a desegregated school, which suggests that Frank had indeed felt the true pulse of America. Read (or listen) about these two works: Frank’s The Americans and the photo-journalist Will Counts’ image of Elizabeth Eckford going to high school in Little Rock, AK in 1957. Do you think one type of photography, Frank’s “art” photography vs. Counts’ news photography, is more effective than the other? Or are both powerful visual documents of the social inequities in American society of the Fifties?

Read (or listen) to NPR’s report on Robert Frank’s The Americans

Read the story behind Will Counts’ photograph of Elizabeth Eckford

The deadline for submitting posts to THIS Discussion Topic is the last day of class, Thursday, May 23rd. Please note only the last few Discussion Topics have this extended deadline–check the dates!

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1 Response to Discussion Topic: Photographing the Beginning of the Civil Rights Movement

  1. Shantel says:

    I believe both images are very powerful visual documents of the social inequities in the 50’s. Robert Frank “The Americans” and Will Counts “Elizabeth Eckford” both were able to get their points and messages across to the public. Each being scrutinized, judged, and looked upon as outsiders in society. I personally enjoy the realism and the fact that these two photographers captured what was actually taking place during this time. Racism, hard work, sadness and struggles. They didn’t glorify what wasn’t always present. What was happening in America needed to be seen and they made it their mission to get the word out. I do think that Will Count photo demonstrates racism a little more than Roberts photo because your able to see how Elizabeth is being excluded from the rest of her school mates. You see Elizabeth(an African American girl) being stared at and taunted by the rest of the students. But both images show the terrible truth.

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