One of the various exhibitions housed within the Mirror of Race website is the special exhibition of Violence, the 8th figure of this exhibition being the focal point of this essay. More specifically, the placement of the white man’s hand on the African American man’s neck is of discussion. The photograph captures a gag. Three white men pose for a picture with a black man placed between the three of them while casually holding up a revolver. Taken circa 1885, the photograph as a whole pokes fun at racial tensions with the countercultural idea of allowing a black man a gun. While it is a joke, underlying tension and anxiety can be taken note of within the picture.
Namely, the white man’s hand on the black man’s neck. While giving a black man a gun was obviously done for the sake of a joke and the photograph, the man’s hand placement represents not only his own underlying concern and anxiety attached to the joke, but also that of the other two men in the photograph. His hand acts almost as a leash for the black man, and a short one at that. They are treating him like an animal. Showcasing how well they have him “trained” but not allowing him much room for error. Just in case the animal does turn the gun on all of them, the man is ready. Ready as if it is an expectation. What wild animal would not turn on those that have abused it? The appropriate answer being, no human being can and should be considered a wild animal nonetheless treated like one.This portion of the photograph plays into the feeling of the photograph as a whole. The two men, in the front and on the left, both face the camera. Their faces are stagnant and serious, giving off a feeling of gravity to the photo. However, this temperament of the photo is broken by the man holding the black man’s neck. It is as if the other two men are concerned as to what the black man may do with the revolver, meanwhile, the man with his hand on his neck feels more secure since he has “control” over the man.
The purpose of the Mirror of Race project as a whole is to not only showcase the reality of the times these photos were taken, but also to generate shock within the viewer. Shock at the fact that this is how people of various races were treated through the history of our country. The utilization photographs as a means to this end is most suited because of modern societies view of photographs as showcasing the utmost truth. These are not paintings influenced by imagination nor bias. These photographs are real people in real poses allowing the viewer to interpret them as genuine and realistic. The final purpose of the Mirror of Race project makes one reflect on how the modern era today is different than these photographs of the past. But more importantly the viewer is tasked with asking how does one go about continuing to make them different?