HT1 Essential reading: Carol Squires ‘Looking at Life’ 1981

Carol Squires reflects on the popular magazine Life which was launched in 1938 and was one of the first picture paper magazines in America. Within her introduction she speaks about how different Life magazine was to its European counterparts ‘British liberalism, anti-fascism of France, German photojournalism’ (1981, p140) whereas Life was conservative.

She also expresses how the way magazines use their images within articles concludes the meaning of the photograph and so when images that were used in Life magazine are taken out and reproduced in books and exhibitions they have a completely different meaning to the viewer as the original text that came with the photograph is not always shown, at the most they will display the caption or title. As photographs have many ‘meanings’ they are very complex and can be interpreted in many ways, and so Squires brings up the issue of taking the image away from the text.

The works of Henri Cartier-Bresson ‘The Decisive Moment’ and also Ropert Capa specifically his image ‘Loyalist soldier falling dead during Spanish Civil War’ are considered  as they both have specific texts that go with the images and so by taking away these texts Squire proposed they were then ‘fiction’ as they could be interpreted in many different ways.

Henry Luce was the main man behind the idea of Life magazine with business partner Briton Hadden and made it ‘a virtual textbook for American political opinion, mass culture and sex-role instruction.’ (Squires, 1981, p143) Luce’s main aims for the magazine were:

To see life; to see the world, to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things – machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the gangland on the moon… to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls…
Things dangerous to come to; the women that men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed.
Thus to see and to be shown, is now the will and the new expectancy of half mankind.
To see, and to show, is the mission now undertaken by LIFE.
(Squires, 1981, p143)

Carol Squires then goes on to talk about specific issues of Life magazine explicitly the October 25, 1954 and September 16, 1957 which both had significant articles about events within them. The 1954 issue which is discussed Squires mainly looks at the ‘Hanoi’s Red Masters Take Over’ section of the magazine which presents the event of ‘the final departure of the French from Hanoi after 68 years of occupation, and the Communists ‘winning’ finally bringing repression with them.'(1981, p144). The 1957 section of the issue Squires focussed on was regarding interrogation in schools and how America overcome this in a humane way, which is followed by pictures of women competing for Miss America, by the way these two are set next to each other Squires suggests that Life are presenting how someday black women would be able to compete as well.

Overall Carol Squires talks about Life and shows how it came to be and how important image and text can be in relation to how the images are accepted by the viewer.


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