In “Photographing the Vietnam War” Robert Hairman and John Lucaites illustrate what makes an iconic photograph iconic and why. They specifically write about what makes the photo of a naked girl running through the streets of Vietnam after a bombing an iconic photo. The photograph was taken in 1972 and was published all over the world. Immediately people around the world were outraged; why was the girl naked? Why were the soldiers in the background acting as if this was normal? Why had all the children in the photograph been separated from their families? These were all questions running through the minds of Americans and other people throughout the world (199). The photograph stirred many emotions and made many people who at the time already felt the war was unnecessary, hate the war even more. The faces of terror on the children created a very real picture of what the war was doing to families and other innocent people in the country of Vietnam.
Hairman and Lucaites argue that iconic photographs “reproduce dominant ideologies, they shape understanding of specific events and periods (then and subsequently), they influence political action both topically, and by modeling relationships between civic actors, and they provide figural template for subsequent communicative action” (201). This is true for the photograph of the naked girl running with scars on her back in Vietnam. The photograph made people of the time who already resented the war, resent it even more. People who may had not been exposed to what the war was doing to the children of the country now had a clear view, and now demanded change at an even greater pace than before the picture was taken. The picture lives on making it iconic even to the people who were born after the incident illustrating the horrors of the Vietnam War.
If however that is the definition of an iconic photograph, there is somewhat of a problem. Many photographs pop up before the photo of the girl in Vietnam when the phrase “iconic photograph” is typed into an internet search engine. The photograph of Marilyn Monroe posing over the grate in the street where her dress is flying up and she looks playful, yet sexy is one of them. This photograph does not reproduce dominant ideologies. In the year this picture was taken in 1954 women were not to be seen as sexy and her husband of the time Joe DiMaggio felt that the picture was too sexy and even divorced her shortly afterward (Famous). The photograph did not “model relationships between civic actors” in any way (201). A protest was not started, war was not ended, and not many people besides the people who saw the film this photograph was taken for even cared about it. Action may have been sparked by this photograph, but the action would most likely been on the scale of modern women of the time dressing a little more provocatively. This photograph is considered iconic but does not meet Hairman and Lucaites definition of what an iconic photograph should be.
If Hairman and Lucaites definition were to hold true for the picture of Marilyn would have shown what the modern woman of the time was like and that would have meant that the modern woman of the time; according to the photograph; would need to be sexy, yet playful and able to withstand the heat of a grate on the street blowing up her dress. Women would have begun protest in order to get what they want, immediately after seeing the photograph, and action would take place. Hairman and Lucaites definition for an iconic photograph is quite strict and does not hold true for all others.
- What do you consider to be the true definition of an iconic photograph?
- Why do you think Hairman and Lucaites chose the definition they did?