Next we turned to the Diane Arbus photo called
A Child Crying, New Jersey, 1967
. The photo elicited sympathetic sighs from my students. The photo shows nothing but the little girl crying and the children were able to come up with many explanations of why she was in distress. But why would you want to take a picture of a little girl crying? The children thought that it didn't matter why she was crying; that the photographer wanted to show us how sad the baby was. Also they were able to determine from the white glare of the photo that camera was very close to the girl because it looked like her face was hit with light from the flash. She looked to them like she was looking into a funhouse mirror that exaggerated her face and made it seem larger than life. They could see the tracks of her tears and almost hear her crying.
Then they were shown the photo by Man Ray called
Man Ray was born Emanuel Rabinovitch in Philadelphia but was raised in New Jersey. He learned the basics of photography from Alfred Stieglitz. Later he went to Europe and became part of the European experimental movement known as
was an attempt to create works of art that confused the viewer's sense of reality. They would photograph everyday objects and present them as finished works of art.
In the photo
Man Ray chose to show the tears of a woman. We see can see her eyes and the tears. On further looking at the photo my students felt that the woman did not show any real emotion -- rather the tears looked like they were placed there. In the Arbus photo they could see the tears streaming down the girls eyes and hanging off of her face. This woman had very beautiful eyelashes and as one student offered the mascara should be running down her face. While the students had guessed at the phony emotions of the Man Ray photo I did not learn until later the fact that the woman in the photo is actually a mannequin and the tears were glass beads stuck on for effect. Autobiographically speaking the photo was done at a time when Man Ray had broken off relations with his lover Lee Miller. There is the suggestion of the phony tears. My students discussed how crying can often get you sympathy and how they have used tears to manipulate certain situations. This photo suggested that we can be fooled by a photo and in real life.
We then turned our attention to the photograph called V
by David Heath. Heath was born in 1931 and grew up in foster homes and orphanages in the Philadelphia area. He later became a kind of "street photographer."
The photo shows a boy obviously crying and in pain lying on the ground looking at his hand. Turning away from him but almost highstepppng with laughter is a little girl. My students initially thought the little girl was calling for help. The projected photo was not clear to them and the little girl's face is turned in profile. As a result I felt it necessary to tell them that the title of the photo was
We then spoke about the meaning of the word vengeful and the idea of trying to get revenge on someone who has hurt you. Then it became obvious that the girl was dancing and screaming with glee about having hit her brother. They could then see the boy's surprised look as he looks at his hand and lies writhing in pain.
In looking at the setting of this photo it is interesting that there is nothing in the scene but the boy and girl. Children might speculate what would happen if a toy were on the ground. My students thought that it would indicate that they argued over that object. Without a possible answer to why she had taken vengence on her brother the picture the picture was more interesting. It was a puzzle you couldn't really solve and most found unnecessary to do.
In looking at the setting there is nothing but concrete sidewalk and steps. Hard rectangular surfaces are all you see. As you look at the little girl she is almost like a plane lifting off--her hands by her side and her head in the air. Her triumph over her brother is apparent in a release of energy that you can see and feel. The back of her head leads down in a slanted line to the head of her brother who in contrast to her stretched figure is curling up in a protective fetal position.
My students were sympathetic to the girl and understood that her brother had probably deserved what he got. Many of them speculated at her motives and recounted their own experiences at being both victim and bully. For this set of pictures we spoke about the fact that most of them would be punished if they were the little girl. My assignment to them would be to write a letter to their parents describing why they did what they did and if they feel the punishment were justified.