In my final blog post, I wish to compare both Kara Walker’s book Freedom: A Fable and David Douglas Duncan’s photography book Iprotest!. Personally, both books were thoroughly enjoyable to look through and were very powerful. I also enjoy the fact that despite many aesthetic differences between both books, the works of both Walker and David Duncan make a statement about our society. They capture our attention as the reader and tell us a story, using imagery and text, about the world we live in and the social issues that we must recognize.
Kara Walker’s Freedom: A Fable is a narrative about a young black woman named “N-” who is recently set free after the Civil War. Since most of Walker’s work is based on themes of power, race, repression, history and sexuality, Walker uses the form of the book as a way to channel her commentary on African American history. The book describes the journey of a black woman and her desire to go back home to Africa, a place where having dark skin doesn’t matter, after being abused by her white owner. Walker’s typical large-scale silhouettes of African American women visibly inspire the illustrations of the book. Normally, Kara Walker displays her silhouettes by building circular spaces within a gallery with both an entrance and exit. The viewer is then able to walk into the gallery space and is surrounded by her huge black images that consume them. In comparison, Walker’s book Freedom: A Fable seems to be put together with a similar concept in mind- making her book small in size but intricate to pull the reader closer and closer to its pages making the experience grasping. Walker also incorporates the craft of pop-ups within each page spread which leap off the white pages of the book. This technique makes the physical relationship between the artist and the book as overwhelming as the Walker’s construction of the gallery space but in far more personal way.
Walker’s delicate craft of silhouettes embedded in her artist book addresses different racial stereotypes. For example, some of the pop ups within the pages use representations of slaves alongside southern belles or gentlemen in acts of violence. Unlike Duncan’s book whose detailed photography stimulates certain emotions, the outlines of Walker’s silhouettes do most of the talking. Their illustrative characteristics animate the text that lies on the white pages underneath, allowing both the images and text to work together. Therefore, the words are brought to life by the images, which I find powerful. Finally, Walker constructs her pop ups in such a way that she makes her the outlines of her images as detailed and realistic as possible. In order to do so she adds layers and depth to the pop-ups giving them photographic characteristics.
David Douglas Duncan’s Iprotest! works in a similar way as Freedom: A fable. The book consists of both text and image however the photographs remain flat on the surface of the page spread rather than popping out. Being an American photojournalist, Duncan uses his photographs from the Vietnam War to construct a book that conveys the horror of being at war. He alternates between combinations of singular black and white photographs to a series of photographs positioned beside one another to keep the viewer interested. Like Walker’s contrast between bright white pages and black pop ups, Duncan’s photographs consist of high contrast levels that almost separate the black elements of the photograph from the white. This gives the photographs a “pop-up” effect linking Duncan’s work directly to Walker’s artist book. Duncan also embeds differently composed photographs, some being portraits and others landscapes. The details of each photograph are deeply focused and intricate that they strongly convey the effects of war on American soldiers to the viewer.
Daniel Douglas Duncan also incorporates text in his photography book, but uses it differently. Unlike Walker, who weaves her text through the white gaps that are formed by her pop-up silhouettes, Duncan discusses the meaning of his photographs at the beginning of the book and allows his shots independently take over the main body of the book and speak for themselves. Therefore, the text at the beginning of the book acts as though it is setting the stage for the readers while the photographs illustrate the story. Since Duncan’s photographs are powerfully composed, a written explanation of each one isn’t as necessary as it is for Kara Walker’s artist book!
Photography books have always caught my attention. I strongly feel as though photographs displayed on their own can be very powerful but when put together in the book can tell a story better than words can. Because I have a huge fascination with photojournalism, David Duncan’s photographs caught my attention immediately.. Similarly, since Kara Walker’s pop up silhouettes looked as though they were inspired by photographic elements (such as realism) that were put into a book form. I had never seen her work on display in a gallery and felt lucky to experience it at a personal level, which drew me into the narrative that Walker put together. In conclusion, both works moved me. Through Freedom: A fable Walker was able to discuss the issues of being an African American. In comparison, Daniel Douglas Duncan’s Iprotest! was able to illustrate the life of soldiers at war and how much war affects them.
Freedom a Fable (Pop-up example) Freedom a Fable (Illustrative outlines) E.g of Kara Walker’s Gallery Exhibitions Freedom a Fable (Pop up as depth) Iprotest- (Deep contrast level-pop up effect) Iprotest (Soldiers)