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Thursday, August 24, 2017

From an Image, to an Image: The Crowd in American Lynching Photography

Warning: There are graphic and upsetting depictions and images in this blog post. I have made the images deliberately (too) small to minimize their digital appeal as a shareable commodity. They are described in more detail within the text. Both images are from Without Sanctuary (Allen, James, Hilton Als, John Lewis and Leon F. Litwack, Without Sanctuary. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Twin Palms Publishers, 2010).

A note on the text: This paper was originally written in 2012 for a class on Crowds with Laura Fantone at SFAI. In light of the recent events and images of racist violence which came out of Charlottesville this paper is very topical in that one can draw a number of parallels, not just between the events of then and now, but also between the use of photography of lynchings and the function of Confederate monuments as a beacon of terror. I encourage you to read this and look for the many similarities to the current uses of photography (of crowds) and the long history of the use of imagery (and crowds) in fascism and the fundamental understanding that an image (a photo or a monument) drives a crowd (mob). And finally, to consider the crowd and its (n)ever changing make-up, motivations and ability to induce fear.

Additionally, I am interested in the use of photography and social media to identify (some of) the criminals from the Charlottesville protests and the accompanying out cry of - Is this OK? Do we become (like) the mob by trying to hold member of the mob accountable? (In short, NO.)

I am not, and do not claim to be, an expert on lynching in America. 'Reading' archival photographic images and the history of photography are my areas of expertise. This is a look at two images of lynchings as they relate the long history of Crowds and their associated violence, unpredictability, anonymity and unsettling duality.

From an Image, to an Image: The Crowd in American Lynching Photography
“ the power of the crowd is the only force that nothing menaces.” - Gustave LeBon1

Throughout the semester we have looked at a number of ways to analytically interpret and investigate the crowd through both visual representations and critical analysis of history and various archives. Looking at two images from the book, Without Sanctuary, 2010, I will examine the nature of two crowds represented there. Without Sanctuary is a collection of images of American lynchings from 1890-1920. These images, according to Congressman John Lewis, “bring(ing) to light one of the darkest and sickest periods in American history”.2 The two chosen images are part of the photo postcard craze of the first few decades of the 1900s.3 This craze was the result of reduced costs and a simplified process for making and printing photographs as well as special pricing for postcards offered by the United States Post Office starting in 1905.4 As Dutch writer Luc Sante states, when referring to photographic postcard images from the time this era, “It is always important to remember that these photographs were a vital medium of communication, much more than the vessels of memory they appear to us today.

Lynching in America was mostly (but not always) white on black and gradually became a blacker and more Southern Rural phenomenon.5 I have selected two distinctive images from this collection to analyze in regards to the representations of the crowd. Who makes up this crowd? Why is this important? Why is it that often times, the identity of a crowd/mob are veiled by history? Beyond that, How does a crowd become capable of dramatic and hideously unspeakable acts of violence?

In light of readings by French sociologist, Gustave LeBon, and British historian and socialist, E.P. Thompson, as well as, reading from Crowds (2006), the seemingly unknown nature and motivations of the crowd come into slightly sharper focus. Photography played a role in American lynching not unlike the role of printmaking and new publication technologies played in the French Revolution. LeBon suggests that crowds are lead by images.6 He argues that crowds are seduced by the strong sentiments suggested by an image, and that this seduction can drive a crowd to action.7 In this study, the images of the crowd, the crowd which gathers to watch the spectacle (of the imagined image), becomes the spectacle themselves. These crowds were driven by images and, I argue, to images.

An integral part of the spectacle of lynching was the creation and proliferation of souvenirs, often times a photographic postcard. In these postcards, the crowd, which gathers to watch the spectacle, is photographed. By being made into an image, they become the spectacle. The audience is the subject. They are also part of the intended audience for the image, making the spectator the audience and the subject. These postcards worked to broaden the audience of the spectacle, creating a less tangible audience of those who bought and received postcards (images) of the event. They too are now seduced by the images, threatening transformation to an act, and the cycle continues.

Image 1
Spectators at the lynching of Jesse Washington, May 16, 1916, Waco TX. 
From the collection of Allen/Littlefield. 

This 5 ½ x 3 ½, black and white image is a real photo postcard. Hundreds of individuals can be seen at what appears to be the core of an even larger crowd. The term “real photo postcard” refers to an postcard printed in the darkroom and typically editioned as 100 or less.8 It shows the view from above, a great way to capture the image of the crowd. Reminiscent of the oceanic crowds of fascist propaganda, it is a tightly packed sea of hats, heads and shoulders. At first, it is hard to notice anything but the crowd. There is a tree just right of center, whose branches reach out of frame. At the base of the tree, to the right is the naked, tangled corpse of Jesse Washington, rope still around his neck.

Image 2
The lynching of Laura Nelson and her son, and several dozen onlookers. May 25, 1911, Okemah, Oklahoma. Gelatin Silver Print. Real photo postcard 5 ½ x 3 ½. Etched into negative, “1911 copyright, G.H.Farnum, Okemah, OKLA 2897”

With a warm sepia tone, this image is, at first glance, pleasing, even serene. A steel bridge rises over a picturesque rural, river. White townspeople, including men, women and numerous children, line the bridge. Relaxed and casual, they face the camera. Look a little longer and the lynched bodies of Laura Nelson and her son can be seen dangling between the bridge and the water. She is wearing a light colored long-sleeved dress with her arms at her side. Her figure almost disappears into the light background of the trees in the distance, the rope from which she hangs is barely visable. About 20 feet to her left hangs her son. The rope which hangs him makes a bright white line to his body which, is somewhat camouflaged by the trees in the background. His hands are bound, he is wearing a white shirt and his pants dangle from his feet. Ms. Nelson and her son were taken from the jailhouse without impediment by a posse of 40 men in the night. They were gagged and taken to a new steel bridge in a black settlement where they were hanged. Ms. Nelson had confessed to the crime of murder in an effort to protect her son. Though she was known to be innocent for many weeks, and her son sat untried by a court of law, they were hanged in an act of vigilante justice to avenge the shooting death of a white man.9 In an account of the events in an Oklahoma newspaper it was reveled that, “Hundreds of people from Okemah and the western part of the country went to view the scene.”10 One can assume then, that this image was taken on one of these sight seeing trips.

LeBon and Thompson draw conclusions that help us to make sense of a complicit crowd, which views and encourages acts of (extreme) violence. Latent tensions are the real underpinnings of the rise of mobs/crowds in revolutions. Considering the context, the times, in which a crowd was living, is integral in understanding their motivations. In the case of these crowds, one can point to a backdrop of racism, segregation, proximity, poverty, fear, the perceived threat of social mobility of Southern African-Americans, as well as the invented sexual threat of the Southern black man, which all play a dangerous and foundational role in the actions of the crowd. 

In the context of social folk photography, these images are shameful and telling.11 They are as full of contradictions and dichotomies as the people in the crowds. Reproduced and disseminated, these images of specific, horrific, acts of violence make it impossible for us to ignore the event, but they can be read (remembered/presented) a number of ways. How do we interpret the visual information then vs. now? As Congressman Lewis notes, “These images stretch our credulity, even numb our minds and senses to the full extent of the horror, but they must be examined.” 12 I will address here: the the make-up of the crowd, the leaders, morals and motivations of the crowd, including rape, and finally, the role of the democratization of photography on the viewers.

Both of theses images, but especially Image Two evoke Brazilian, social documentary photographer SebastiĆ£o Selgado's mechanism of showing something horrible in a beautiful way. The scene is romanticized. Does this work to blind us to the brutal reality? Image 1 and 2 represent seemingly different crowds, but in many ways they are the same, they share the same motivations - they hunger for the same image, that of a dead black man or woman at the hands of a white crowd. They represent (but not in the same frame) as Stefan Jonnson points out in David's Tennis Court Oath does, “ a well-organized assembly and a raging mob [are] crossed with each other”.13 These images represent the enduring dualities of the crowd and their motivations.

Who makes up a/this crowd? Why is this important?

Lynchings were carried out by groups large and small.14 The term “lynch mob” is used to refer to persons responsible for inflicting (physical) deadly violence and sometimes the entire group of spectators as a whole. The physical aggressors are just a small part of a much bigger audience and together they are the crowd. The lynch mob/crowd is multifaceted. It includes active lynchers, spectators/fans, the large group of complacent towns people, politicians. Additionally, the images expand the audience even further, to the wider country as a whole, and they continue reach out, making the audience ever larger. The expanded audience includes those who got postcards, who may have pinned them to their wall, showed them to friends, and even put them in family albums, and now us. We, as the newest viewers of these images, become a witness to these atrocities and join the audience, all thank to the technology of photography.

The term “lynch mob” evokes a certain image of chaos, but this was not always the case. To be sure these mobs/crowds were terrifying and represented the worst of many long held fears of the crowd, but even orderly crowds can invoke terror. Indeed, the Latin root for crowd is “tuba” meaning “to trouble or stir up”, turbulence. 15 This fear is represented by the fact that, “In populous Rome, a large crowd of men was viewed as such an unpredictable and potentially hostile force that the Roman army was forbidden from marching into the city.” 16 

The media of the time placed a distinction on ”good”, orderly executions by the community.23 By one Atlanta newspaper's account the crowd at a lynching were “orderly and conservative” not “foreign or lawless”.24 In some instances the victims were given time to pray and say goodbye to family and friends. The word was put out to farmers in the surrounding areas and spectators were brought in by train to view the event.25 The crowd grew. At the time, society tried to exult and justify the crowd, stressing their dignity and the need for such actions as necessary. Ironically, over time, history has tried to make out lynchings to be the acts of a few disenfranchised barbarians, in an effort to sanitize the truth. Like LeBon's investigation into the crowds of the French revolution, we need to take the time to understand who these people really were. It is the only way to avoid the same type of atrocities in the future.

So who made up these lynch mobs/crowds? We know that there was fair number of “church goers” in the group which can account for the “relative silence of white churches,” in a deeply devote South.17 Other participants included: merchants, farmers, laborers, machine operators, teachers, lawyers, doctors, policemen, students and children.18 According to LeBon this crowd represents a sect, “individuals differing greatly as to their education, their professions and the class of society to which they belong, and with their common beliefs as the connecting link.”19 The crowd present in both presented images is homogenous, that is, almost entirely white. According to LeBon, “the violence of the feelings of crowds is also increased, even in heterogeneous crowds, by the absence of all sense of responsibility. These sentiments are atavistic residuum of the instincts of the primitive man, which the fear of punishment obliges the isolated and responsible individual to curb. Thus it is that crowds are so easily led into the worst excess.”20 These homogenous crowds, they were able to kill, kidnap, and torture with impunity. Endorsed by politicians and ignored by the legal system, crowds could murder with abandon because of the complacent nature the townspeople who do not actively participate, but did nothing to intervene, thus becoming an extension of the crowd. ”Townspeople closed ranks to protect their own kind, thereby becoming partners in the crimes committed...juries refused to bring indictments against easily identifiable mob participants,” ruling the deaths to have taken place, “at the hands of persons unknown.”21 indeed, they, “inflicted their terror as crowds and mobs, rarely as individuals.”22

As mentioned before, in image 1 the crowd is (almost?) entirely male, and white. At least five black men can be seen in the image. In this, by today's standards, poor quality black and white image, the white farmers and other laboring white folks, darkened from the sun, are at times almost impossible to discern from a black individual. Almost all of the men in this image are wearing hats, though not the same style, some are tattered and some are crisp and white. Ten gallon hats for cowboys, fedoras, flat caps and “boss of the plains” are all seen by the various spectators.26 This ocean of hats represents all class of white folks from the community, from well-to-do, to common laborers. This crowd is packed tightly, shoulder to shoulder they form a tight ring around the tree, clearing by only a few feet, the tree where Mr. Washington was lynched and to where his naked, disfigured body is still tied. His body and the base of this tree are the center of the photograph. A white man in a dark suit, hat, jacket and tie, is at the horrific heart of the scene, stands within the narrow clearance. Is he a politician or a sheriff? Two men without jackets or ties are also active within the narrow clearance. One holds the open end of the lynching rope with one hand, while he looks down to inspect the desecrated corpse on the other end. To his left is a blurred figure, the camera has caught him in a fast action. It appears as though he is beating the already dead and defiled body of Mr. Washington with a long stick. Is this picture showing a frozen-in-time act of violence upon the victim's corpse? This assembled crowd spills off the frame in every direction. It is likely that many of them witnessed much, if not all, of what was likely the extended torture of Mr. Washington and his horrifying death. The dipicted prolonged abuse of his his corpse was not uncommon, also he is naked, as many male victims were sexually assaulted and mutilated, a bit more on this later. The men toward the center, having by nature of the tightly packed crowd, likely the longest, may be the original instigators. But by looking at them we can't tell – which one of them brought a rope that day? Who called for this death? The point of the crowd is that IT DOESN'T matter. There was a rope and a man was killed, but by whom remains unspoken and in that regard unanswerable. 

Image 2 shows a much more relaxed crowd of 60 or so people, though it is impossible to say if they are all white, most if not all of them are. They are loosely spaced, standing at the railing of a bridge. This “real photo postcard," taken after the crime of the lynchings,  shows a number of men, women and children. It is likely that many of them, the women and children at least, did not witness the actual lynchings, but came to view the scene.27 Some of these these people are women are dressed well, some have parasols, perhaps they have dressed to be seen and in the hopes of having their picture taken with the ghastly scene. Though not written about this image it applies here, “the assembly...looks out at the photographer/spectator – as if they have satiated their appetites for the black corpse hanging...What they want to see now is themselves looking at the camera...”28

One man has removed his hat, but one cannot know why. Is it a gesture to the murdered mother and son? Or, a nod to the still novel act of having his portrait taken? We cannot know the specific thoughts of this spectating crowd, but their presence and willingness to pose seem to affirm their support for the murders and for the normalization, even commemoration( a celebration) of the act of lynching. Still, not everyone who witnessed a lynching, nor everyone who was photographed, was supportive of this vigilante violence. Quoted in Without Sanctuary, a white spectator wrote, “I am a white man, but today is one day that I am certainly sorry that I am one... I am disgusted with my country.”29

Could any one man have stopped a lynching? Could the momentum of the crowd have been stopped? In 51 BC Cicero said, “(there is) no fire so hard to check as the vengeance of the un restrained mob.”30 It is doubtful that any one person, or even a small group, could have stopped a lynch mob. If Laura Nelson is any indication of what happens when you try to protect an intended victim. I have read no reports of this happening and there are very few men known to survive a lynch mob.31

Indeed, the shamed an remorseful white spectator is somewhat of an exception. How can the audience be so calm and complacent in light of such a abhorrent sight? Often times, smiling, pointing and posing?32 Crowds, according to LeBon are “readily influenced by not admit doubt or uncertainty, and always go to extremes.”33 This can begin to explain how a group of “normal” even “good” people participate in the kidnap, torture and lawless murder of an often-times innocent victim. “A crowd which slowly slaughters a defenseless victim displays a very cowardly ferocity; but for the philosopher this ferocity is closely related to that of the huntsman who gather in the dozens for the pleasure of taking part in the pursuit and killing of a luckless stag by their hounds.”34 This can begin to answer the question Who or what leads a crowd to such extremes?

What drives this crowd?

Crowds, which are, according to LeBon, “incapable of..thinking for any length of time,” need a leader.35 They are simple, exaggerated and intolerant.36 “An orator wishing to move a crowd must make an abusive use of violent affirmations. To exaggerate, to affirm, to resort to repetitions, and never to attempt to prove anything by reasoning are methods of argument well known to speakers at public meeting.” 37 We have seen some of these various methods employed throughout history in leaders and great and unifying orators such as, Dr. Martin Luther King and Jr, JFK as well as in more sinister speakers like television evangelists or even Hitler to name a few. “An orator in intimate communication with a crowd can evoke images by which it will be seduced.”38 The lynch mob seems to have two leaders, first the longed for image, and next, the orator, which, I argue, stands only to prop up the image, the real drive of the crowd. One such orator proudly proclaimed, “I led the mob which lynched Nelse Patton, and I am proud of it. I directed every moment of the mob and I did everything I could to see that he was lynched.” 39 The previously seen image (a photograph?), implied (impending), and anticipated image of a murdered black man or woman, which can confirm their place in society, was the driving image of these crowds. According to one black observer, whites knew that the image of “one Negro swinging from a tree will serve as well as another to terrorize a community.”40 Even better was a photograph proving they were there.

If, in images 1 and 2, these crowds are gathered around their leader, then we can see that this crowd is lead by violence and hate, but how did they get there?

According to LeBon, “A long time is necessary for ideas to establish themselves in the minds of the crowds, but just as long is needed for the to be eradicated.”41 Indeed, the painful and divisive end of slavery, coupled with the black mans suffrage (1870), threatened the white patriarchal hierarchy that was in place throughout the country, but deeply and bitterly entrenched in the South. The “new negro, born in freedom” was a threat to the white man.42 According to Congressman Lewis, “ If lynchings were calculated to send a message to the black community to underscore its vulnerability, whites succeeded.”43 The terror of lynching was made viral with the photo postcard. In one instance, a minster from New York who had spoken out against lynching got a postcard in the mail, “depicting a crowd in Alabama posing for a photographer next to the body of a black man dangling by a rope,” on the back it read, “This is the way we do them down here. The last lynching has not been put on a card yet. Will put you on our regular mailing list. Expect one a month.”44 This is a good example of the use of the image and its proliferation hard at work to spread the image that drove the lynch crowds. Incidentally, in many cases, it is also an image of that crowd.

Besides spreading the message of fear and terror to people with anti lynching sentiments, both black and white, it helped to codify those who were in favor of the practice. Not unlike the sense of national unity created by posters and pull out panoramas of Italian Fascism, these images fed and created a larger audience.45

Thompson notes that there are, “popular attitudes towards crime, amounting at times to an unwritten code, quite distinct from the laws of the land. Certain crimes were outlawed by both codes...”46 He continues, “the distinction between the legal code and the unwritten popular code is a commonplace at any time.”47 In Without Sanctuary there are plenty of examples in which the victim was proven innocent in a court of law and still murdered by the lynch mob, representing street justice.48 According to LeBon, “The usual motive of crowds is a powerful suggestion, and the individuals who take part in such crimes are afterwards convinced that they have acted in obedience to duty, which is far from being the case with an ordinary criminal.”49 There existed, “the murderer's conviction that he has committed a very meritous act...An act of this kind may be considered a crime legally, but not psychologically.”50 With this in mind one can see how a crowd is driven by a sense of exaggerated justifiable justice.

Adding to the disconnect between the crowd and the victim was the segregation and separate living quarters and conditions of blacks and whites in the South. Living separately can act to dehumanize one group from another and breed fear.51 This is evidenced in historian David Harvey's study into Belleville. In 1855 the prefect of police in Paris laments the class segregated neighborhoods. He thinks the checks put in place by poor citizens proximity to their more well-to-do neighbors are now lost, and also that there is no longer a direct form of neighborly assistance that can humanize the poor to the more wealthy while also assisting the poor (economically and otherwise).52 New communities like Belleville that were strictly of the lower class became places the upper class feared.53 This is a clear example of the, “ growing spacial segregation, and specialization of quarters.” The segregation in the South was racial, and, one could argue that entire rural communities were spatially segregated by distance from nearby towns and cities. One can only image how an isolated and segregated group, griped with fear would act when they perceived a threat to their power. The evidence of such actions are these images. The crowds within are, “too impulsive and too mobile to be moral”.54

There are accounts of lynching happening just because there hadn't been one in a while. This would imply that lynching had elements of sport to it. According to Congressman Lewis, “For some, “nigger killing” had simply become a sport...prompting one black newspaper in 1911 to call it “The National Pastime”.55 This recalls the aforementioned image of the “luckless stag”. These lynching victims are Martyrs. If, “Martyrdom is...a dance between the individual and a vision of collective-vision...the collective need not be present in its entirety,”56 Accordingly, “...what must be present, at the site is a crowd of opponents...”, this definition fits the bill precisely. 57 The crowd at a lynching surely being a crowd of opponents to the lynched. This idea, along with the concept of religious relics, has a strong parallel to lynching events in America's history. In ancient Rome, criminals being put to death were subjected to painful and gruesome public torture, often in a “fitting” manner as to “suit” the crime.58 This was played out in the drama of American lynchings, as seen in the sexual mutilation of victims accused of rape, for instance. Lynchings, elevated to theatrical drama, calling on societal myths, stereotypes and fears.59

The stereotype (and white male's creation) of an “African” oversexed predatory brute was a common theme in lynching theatrics.The crime of rape played an important role in the perpetuation of lynching. Often times there was grotesque and sadistic mutilation of the victim's genitals.60  History shows us that this fabrication was an inversion of the actual sexual violence which was common between the races, namely the rape of black women by white men in power and NOT the rape of white women by black men.

In LeBon's assertion of a crowd, “a single great crime drives them to action.“61 In the case of numerous lynchings that crime was rape. Murder was committed under the banner, “we must protect our southern women.”62 This was part of the ocular economy in the South, of who can look at who.63 The reported (or purported) rape of a white woman, by a black man, was often times the catalyst for a lynch mob. It played into the fears and insecurities of the (rural) white man. To hear one black souther man tell it, “The closer a black man got to the ballot box...the more he looked like a rapist.” 64According to art historian T.J Clark there is often a sexual component to the revolutionary crowd “compounded sexual fears with fear of revolution”.65 I'm not sure that a lynch mob can be described as “revolutionary”, though perhaps at the time they would have described themselves that way.

“White fears were based on the assumption that most lynching stemmed from sexual assault.”66 However, this is not the case, only 19% of those (on record) lynched between 1889 and 1918 were even accused of rape.67 An interesting point made by congressman Lewis, “Whites seemed incapable of grasping the fundamental hypocrisy which condemned black rape of white women and condoned or ignored white rape of black women.”68 Another example of the dual (contradictory) nature of the crowd.

As is the case with many crowds, what they thought had happened was more important than what actually happen.69 As Thompson notes, “stout fellows that would spend the last drop of their blood against the popery that do not know weather it be a man or a horse.”70 As in lynchings where the person had been found innocent or the case without evidence. Fabricated stories were swallowed whole heartedly by the mass, which went onto seek retribution for the “crime”. Typically, the “affirmation of the first witness, himself a victim of illusion, had sufficed to influence the other witnesses.”71

Lynchers, with the help of the news media and images of lynchings, created a monster; the violent, uncontrollable black rapist. “Having created a Frankenstein monster (and it is no less terrifying because it is largely illusory) the lyncher lives in constant fear of his own creation.”72 Then in an effort to protect themselves from a “decent in to anarchy and barbarism” they perpetrate it savagely upon their imagined enemies, and very real victims.

Photography as Postcard
With the advent of the personal Kodak, and the democratic proliferation of photography, in the early decades of the 1900s, the photo postcard became a popular form of communication and correspondence.73 It is hard to underscore how hugely important and innovative this was for people at the time. It revolutionized correspondence, primarily for people who did not live close to family and friends and had no money to travel. Buying and mailing a postcard could be done for about 5 cents and with a little more money you might buy your own camera.

“Hundreds of kodaks clicked all morning at the scene of the lynching. People...came from miles around to view thew corpse dangling at the end of a rope....Picture card photographers installed a portable printing plant at the bridge and reaped a harvest in selling postcards showing a photograph of the lynched Negro.”74

These souvenirs were a way of proving/authenticity saying, “I was there.” Recording an event with a photograph was nothing short of revolutionary, it was so much more than a memory or a tale. It seemed to prove something, to show something 'real.' It made it harder to deny the event or to forget - both for the intimidators and the intimidatees.

Consider these quotes from Without Sanctuary:

In reference to a lynch mob and deceased victim it was said, “The exuberant and proud lynchers..posed around him while photographers recorded the scene.”75

Also, “It was not uncommon for members of lynch mob to pose for news photographers with the sheriff and the intended victim.”76

These images implicate the vast, gawking and guilty crowd, their ”self-satisfied expressions as the pose beneath black people hanging from a rope...”77 In a time before people thought to smile for the camera and often times held still for long exposures, it is hard to read the expressions of the people in these images. This is especially true in light of our inundation with images today, and the ease with which we can achieve them. Interesting by today's standards, no one is hiding their face in these images. Maybe it was because photography was so new and the dissemination, as well as its implications to identity and privacy were not fully realized. The future of image proliferation could not have been foreseen. I have only seen one image where someone appears to be hiding his face (in shame?), a solo shot with the lynching victim. As mentioned before, these crowds acted with impunity. Today the images could be used against them in court or law or public opinion, instead they are evidence to a sadistic history in Without Sanctuary. It is true though, that even with the images of these individuals, the identities of most of them are lost to history.

The images were ultimately used for contradictory purposes, and now in yet another new light with the publication of Without Sanctuary. Used, at the time, as propaganda for the lynch mobs/crowds, they were a threat, a warning to blacks and whites alike who were against the disgusting practice. They were also used by black publishers, and politicians, and sent to sympathetic publications both at home and abroad. Black newspapers were encouraged to print the images, ”so that the world can see and know what the semi-barbaious America is doing.”78 This is not propaganda if the definition is, “forms of mass persuasion to which one is adverse”.79 The images were played both “for” and “against” lynching.

So, what effect does the viewing of these images have on the people who were able to view them through this revolutionary technology of photography? What was the effect on the men, women and children who saw those images then and who see them now? When writing in a public place I am careful not to leave an image of a lynching face up or in view of anyone, especially a child. The images continue to terrorize and also to expand the audience, prolonging the spectacle. We can reasonably assume that viewing these images would traumatize a child. Writer James Baldwin tells the tale of two young friends in the South, one black and one white. After a lynching in the town their friendship is too fractured to grow, changing forever their innocent childhood love for each other.80 This is the way in which the act of lynching was intended to function by the lynch mob, and an act which an image can replicate ad infinitum.

Consider the viewing of these images by a black man, then or now. In this case, the “spectator as victim”.81 This is not something I can fully elaborate on here, but to try and sum up a very complicated equation I will quote noted African-American author, Richard Wright. History professor and writer, David Marriott quotes Wright in this excerpt, “ The 'emotional truth' of the feeling that 'there existed men against whom I was powerless, men who could violate my life 'at will' (the pedagogic value of the lynch photo)”.82 Marriott, “this is what the lynchers want. A memory, an imago, that will not go away.”83

Role of the Photographer (photography) 
These perpetual effects show the power of image making and an artists translation of information. In regards to the folk photographer, Sante said, “He or she was out to do a job, to please the public, to turn a dollar, but also to record things faithfully, to include as many details of a scene as the frame could contain...”84 In the case of the lynching photographer, “Not only did photographers capture the execution itself, but also the carnival-like atmosphere and the expectant mood of the crowd...”.85

Is the photographer in this case, as was stated in Crowds a “dictators double”?86 He or she stands apart and often above the crowd, but also remains a part of the crowd/mob. The photographer is not complicit in the act, they are taking action. They are taking a photograph. The photographer may even be the only person on the scene who is doing anything (if even inadvertently) to speak against the act.

These images are black and white in more ways than one. Besides being black and white photographs they represent (almost?) exclusively, African-American and white Americans, that is, blacks and whites. They are read in both positive and negative terms depending on who views them. One could see them as representative of the the fight between good and evil, either side fits. According to writer Stefan Jonsson, depending on your point of view, “view varies accordingly, one of enduring fraternity, one of dangerous subversion.”87 This is the enduring dichotomy of the crowds. The glaring bifurcation of the lynch mob, who uses terror and torture in the name of restraining savagery and depravity.88

With lynching, white patriarchy was trying to undermin what the black man had attained in regards to social freedoms, civil rights and education. Flaubert wrote, “To accomplish anything lasting,” he wrote, “one must have a solid foundation. The thought of the future torments us, and the past is holding us back. That is why the present is slipping from our grasp.”89 This very well could have been said by a black man in the South in this post slavery period, where one tried to establish themselves as equals with former slave owners and white citizens in general.

It is my assertion that photography, and its publication, as well as its new democratic dissemination, in part through the US Post Office, prolonged and endorsed the grotesque phenomenon of lynching in the United States, Sante's democratization of the photographic image. Viewing lynching images from many angles we can begin to see how the camera effected these events in regards to the crowd, the role of the photographer, and finally the devastating effect of these images on viewers especially African-American individuals, then and now. We can see how these crowds, who are driven by an image, quite literally return to one. 

Again, “A long time is necessary for ideas to establish themselves in the minds of crowd, but just as long a time is needed for them to be eradicated.”90 LeBon

As long as this visual evidence exists can these ideas ever be eradicated, as the audience continues to grow? Acting as prop for each side, “Look at what we are capable of.” (as if to say, “you have been warned.”) “Look at what they are capable of?!” If we can never un-see these images, and we can't, how can these images work toward the eradication of hate. The answer ironically, is that these very images work to prolong the spectacle and also to work against these atrocities as enduring evidence that these were not the acts of a few deranged men.

The lynching audience often lingered beyond the event. They stop coming (leave) only when the body is taken down, the “crowd disburses when the spectacle is over.”91 Over until the postcards come out, and then it can be relived again, and again.

1 Jeffery T. Schnapp and Matthew Tiews, Crowds (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2006), 3.
2 James Allen, et al.,Without Sanctuary (Santa Fe, New Mexico: Twin Palms Publishers, 2010), 7.
3 Luc Sante, Folk Photography, (Portland, Oregon: Verrse Chorus Press, 2009), 9.
4 Ibid, 9.
5 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary 13.
6 Gustave LeBon, The Crowd: a study of the popular mind (T.F. Unwind, 1952), 28.
7 Ibid, 28.
8Sante, Folk Photography, 9.
9 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 179.
10Ibid, 180.
11Sante, Folk Photography, 9.
12Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 34.
13Schnapp, Crowds, 55.
14 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 10.
15Schnapp, Crowds, 30.
16Ibid, 30.
17Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 21.
18Ibid p34
19LeBon, The Crowd, 5.
20Ibid, 17.
21 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 20.
22Ibid, 28.
23Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 17.
24Ibid, 10.
25Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary,18.
26 "Wikipedia: Hats",, accessed April 29th
27Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 180.
28Marriott, On Black Men, 6.
29 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 17.
30 Schnapp, Crowds, 4.
31Marriott, On Black Men, 5.
32 though not in these two chosen examples, which show larger groups. Individual portraits show more personal gesturing and glee (?) in the people who pose with the lynched bodies.
33LeBon, The Crowd, 8.
34Ibid, 21.
35Ibid, 10.
36Ibid,15 and 19.
37Ibid, 18.
38 Ibid, 27.
39Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 20.
40Ibid, 16.
41LeBon, The Crowd, 26.
42Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 11.
43Ibid, 27.
44Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 11.
45I could not cite this in out texts, but I pulled it out of my notes from the third week of class.
46E.P .Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 77.
47Ibid, 78.
48Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 17.
49LeBon, The Crowd, 30.
50Ibid, 31.
51David Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity, 253.
52Ibid, 237.
53Ibid, 237.
54 LeBon, The Crowd, 20.
55Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 26
56 Schnapp, Crowds, 140.
57 Schnapp, Crowds, 143.
59Marriott, On Black Men, 20.
60Ibid, 6.
61LeBon, The Crowd, 29.
62Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 10.
63Ibid, 24.
64Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 30.
65Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity, 249.
66Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 23.
67 Ibid, 24.
68Ibid, 23.
69Ibid, 24.
70Thompson, English Working Class, 83.
71LeBon, The Crowd, 14.
72Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 24.
73Sante, Folk Photography, 9.
74 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 11.
75Ibid, 11.
76Ibid, 20.
77Ibid, 34.
78Ibid, 11.
79Schnapp, Crowds, 2.
80Marriott, On Black Men, 17.
81 Ibid, 4.
82Ibid, 11.
83Ibid, 15.
84 Sante, Folk Photography,12.
85Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 11.
86Schnapp, Crowds, 15.
87Crowds p 55 Jonson
88Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary,12.
89 Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity, 236.
90 LeBon, The Crowd, 26.
91 Allen, et al., Without Sanctuary, 18.


1. Allen, James, Hilton Als, John Lewis and Leon F. Litwack, Without Sanctuary.
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Twin Palms Publishers, 2010
2. Clark, T.J., Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution.
Princeton University Press, 1981 (Reader)
3. Harvey, David, Paris, Capital of Modernity.
Routledge, 2003 (Reader)
4. LeBon, Gustave, The Crowd: a study of the popular mind.
T.F. Unwin, 1952 (Reader)
5. Marriott, David, On Black Me.
New York, NY: Columbia Unversity Press, 2000
6. Sante, Luc Folk Photography.
Portland, Oregon: Verrse Chorus Press, 2009
7. Schnapp, Jeffery T. and Matthew Tiews, Crowds.
Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2006
8. Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class.
Vintage, 1966 (Reader)

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