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“Memorial Day” by Anthony Suau: Photography Analysis Essay

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Updated: Feb 21st, 2021

Analysis of a photograph from the Newseum

From the Pulitzer Prize gallery, I was particularly drawn to the Memorial Day photograph by Antony Suau. The picture taken in 1983 shows a lady embracing a tombstone, which is said to be on the grave of her husband. There are many more gravestones behind the woman with the United States flag planted beside each grave. The background of the image is blurry, indicating that when Suau took the photograph, he had one central area of focus and opted to indiscriminately isolate the other items in the shot.

The thematic groundings of the picture are grief, pain, and suffering that are left to widows of war. The woman in the picture is in deep anguish and openly communicates her sorrow. However, her mood tells me that she is proud of her husband and his commitment to the nation. The woman’s pain is caused by the war and the raw manner in which she presents it indicates that she is in a war of her own – a war of emotions.

The numerous gravestones in the shot depict a great number of men who went down serving their country. They (the stones) stand clean bearing some military trappings; this is a clear indication that the men buried there served in uniformed forces and were working as a team when they went down. The flags represent national pride; it shows that Americans are proud of the fallen soldiers.

The photograph was published on the front page of the Denver Post, and at the time, it was mainly aimed at evoking an emotional response to the price that Americans had to pay for peace. Most of the people who saw the photograph when it was published for the first time still hold the image in their memory because it reminds them of the pain and strife they went through whenever they experience the loss of a loved one.

With the image winning the Pulitzer Prize, it has gained international repute being showcased in various galleries all over the world. It has served to further increase its admirers, while at the same time sending its message to other people. However, unlike in the newspaper, where a viewer’s perception of the picture was guided by the story alongside, in galleries, the viewers are free to come up with their unique interpretations.

Individuals can easily relate to the pain of the woman in the shot, without initially being informed of the situation that led to her misery. The advent of the internet has also come to increase the number of the photograph’s fans and also helped it maintain its intended relevance. The photograph has been published on various websites and blogs and still manages to evoke the same response as it did when it was first made public.

While taking the photo, Suau’s tone towards the subject was sympathetic. The photographer related to the pain of the lady and, that is why he took time to ensure that his focus brought out this attitude in a clear manner. The photographer clearly understood that among the hundreds of items in the scene, he could only present the meaning by allowing the viewer to connect the picture on an emotional level.

To achieve this, he made everything else in the shot blurry and gave a soft-tone focus on the main subject, making it easy for the viewer to see the weight of a woman’s pain. The colors and shades of the photograph are earth-tones with the foreground images bearing sharp shadows. The background images are blurred out, and this helps direct the viewer’s attention to one center of interest – the grieving woman.

The composition of the picture appears to block out any noise, allowing the woman to communicate with her dead husband. It is evident from the photograph that the woman is still emotionally hurt by her husband’s death and regularly comes to his grave to pay tribute to his memory. The picture appeals to the universal culture of showing respect to the dead by remembering and appreciating the good things they did when they were alive. The woman in the shot does not represent a specific race or gender. Her pain is of a universal kind and could affect anyone irrespective of their cultural grounding.

In his photograph, Suau wanted to send out the message that the death of a loved one leaves a permanent emotional dent in the bereaved. He also wanted to illustrate that bereaved people attain closure by reflecting on the good things that their departed persons did.

The photographer achieved these objectives by selecting an appropriate technique. Unless Suau isolated had the background items, the message he intended to send would not have been as vivid as it currently is because the background noise would have been overwhelming. A critical look at the photograph indicates that there is a group of people in the background, thus their activities would have diverted the viewer’s attention if the photographer had allowed them to be part of the focus.

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