"The Thousand and One Little Things that go to Make up Life": Civil Rights Photography and the Everyday

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Images of confrontations between nonviolent protesters and police officials define the iconography of the civil rights movement. But some of the most compelling images were taken in other places at other times: in the home, at the lunch counter, on wayside paths, on the porch, and in the beauty shop. This article argues that these photographs are vital to a fuller understanding of the purpose and complexity of civil rights photography, showing the struggle for freedom as rooted in everyday life. Following Martin A. Berger’s and Leigh Raiford’s recent calls for a more varied and contested “canon” of civil rights images, it examines the work of photographers affiliated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who were embedded in grassroots organizing campaigns in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi between 1963 and 1967. Activist photographers such as Matt Herron, Bob Fletcher, Maria Varela, and Herbert Randall created images of an everyday sphere newly exposed, disrupted, and transformed by political action. Looking closely at scenes of waiting, work, or chores that offer only hints of the activism they contain offers a different perspective on how the sit-in, the Freedom School class, or the voter registration line shaped aspirations for everyday life. Expanding the spectrum of protest, these photographs cultivate visual narratives that accentuate quiet labor, understated encounters, bureaucratic tasks, and the slow processes that powered profound political change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-85
JournalAmerican Art
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2018


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