Visions of America: The Real Stories Behind Famous Photographs

Jennifer Keene – Chapman University

Can a photograph really change history or define an age? We live in an era dominated by Instagram and Photoshop, but curated images have shaped the way we understand the present and the past since the invention of photography. Our schooling imbues us with a mental slide show of iconic photographs, images that serve as short-cuts for understanding critical historical moments. But the camera was never just a passive observer of historical events. Instead, generations of photographers wielded the camera as a weapon to shape public opinion; to initiate social change; to capture the essence of a pivotal moment. But who ultimately controls the meaning or significance of an image? The photographer, the viewer, or history?

This lecture explores the creation, diffusion, and reception of iconic images, stories that ultimately render these images even more meaningful. Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, James Van Der Zee, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Joe Rosenthal, Charles Moore, and Eddie Addams explored poverty, child labor, migration, civil liberties, war, and civil rights – shaping our vision of modern America.