Photo Analysis

MacKenzie Kerrigan

February 1, 2011

Visual Literacy

Photo Analysis

In 1985 National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry traveled through Afghan villages studying the refugees and documenting their hardships.  He wandered into a tent of young children and was automatically drawn to a shy young girl in the back, after conversing for a short time he asked if he could take her picture.  She agreed.  Her face full of distress and eyes filled with fear he thought she represented the struggles of every Afghani refugee.  In June of that same year this portrait of this young girl was published on the cover of National Geographic Magazine, and entitled “Afghan Girl.”

            McCurry states that he noticed how the colors of what one is wearing effects the representation of their eye color.  Using this theory in his photo “Afghan Girl” he saw eyes as green as the sea and chose to put her in front of a similar green back drop, with a red accent top over a matching green undershirt.  The contrasting colors of red and green draw the viewer’s attention to all of the colors.  Red is a bold hot pigment which causes the viewer to think about the personality of the subject in the photograph; is she strong, angry or powerful?  Each quality is linked with the color red, while the subtle greenness of her eyes is complemented by the background and undershirt, one must look into the green but simultaneously look into her soul.  What do they see?  Is her anger and sadness visible through the intensity of her stare, or does the coolness of the green give away her deepest fears?  Together the red and green bring all of these emotions together, effectively telling a story about the girl.

            This photo is dominated by curved lines and circular shapes.  It is said that the curved line demonstrates calmness and grace, but there is no calmness to be found within this photograph.  Her eyes are seen as perfect circles, the roundness of them draws the viewer towards them, causing them to once again to look into them and discover her story, who she is.  But her story is none of grace or happiness.  Living in constant fear in a refugee camp this preteen struggles to get by every day.  I would have to disagree with the circular line theory and argue that it was ineffective in the photo.  However the vertical lines in her nose and the horizontal structure of her brow bone come together to create a sense of stability.  They collaboratively describe her internal strength and will to survive.

            The girls eyes are clearly the most dominating feature of this beautiful photograph, they serve as the focal point of the picture. Once again all attention is drawn to the focal point of any picture, this one just so happening to be the same as the location of color and line as well. This focal point also serves as the point of contrast between the colors.  The focal point was used very effectively in this photo and successfully brought automatic attention to her eyes. 

Works Cited

Newman, Cathy. “A Life Revealed.” National Geographic (2002): 3. Web. 1 Feb 2011.

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1 Response to Photo Analysis

  1. MacKenzie Kerrigan
    February 15, 2011
    Visual Literacy
    Pulitzer Prize Photograph
    Old Glory
    After the bombing of Iwo Jima during World War Two 1945, Joe Rosenthal captured a moment that would touch the lives of every American for decades to come. Rosenthal witnessed four marines and one Naval corpsman raise the American flag atop a mound of debris left over from the atomic bomb. This photograph represents the American victory over the Japanese, shows the strength of our nation and empowers the citizens of the United States.
    The diagonal lines used in this photo show movement, “diagonal lines are neither prone nor upright. They are in between- in the process of moving from one extreme to the other.” The main focal point, the flag pole is the most dominant line seen in the photograph. This harsh diagonal shows the movement of the American forces over those of Japan. The greatest country in the world will continue to be victorious over all others. The marine most left in the frame also contributes to the diagonal line theory in that his overall all body position creates a smaller diagonal line. The line follows his backbone and shows the movement and effort he is putting into raising this flag. Determination and courage can be assumed based on this positioning. Overall I would agree that the diagonal line theory correctly shows movement in this photo.
    The diagonal of the flag pole also in a sense divides the picture creating an asymmetric balance between the two sides. “Asymmetry is a visual wilderness- sometimes friendly, sometimes threatening.” It challenges the meaning of the photograph, the movement of the flagpole and the honor of the men. Simultaneously in draw attention to the flag itself, making the most prominent American symbol the main focal point of the photograph.
    Structure is also very relevant in this photograph. “Structure of a work of art refers to the visual expression merge to create and organizational whole.” The stillness of the sky and the settling of debris on the ground collectively show the sadness of the bombings with the triumph of the Americans. The variety of textures also helps in creating a more dominant structure.
    The theories regarding lines, symmetry, structure and focal point are all positively used in this photograph. The meaning is easily interpreted and the mood is defined by these several aspects. Rosenthal was successful in capturing this moment.

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