My recent exploration to LACMA to see the Phantom Sightings Exhibition, introduced me to the work of Ken Gonzales Day. The images, such as Tombstone, shown here are digitally manipulated photographs of lynchings that occurred in California. The photographs were actually postcards printed to commemorate the event and Gonzales Day's manipulation of the image is the removal or eraser of the victim.
The work is haunting in many ways. It seems to speak volumes to the validity of images, in particular photography and its ability to portray history and ideas. The original context of these images, to record the brutal murder of an individual for another's pleasure (a letter home to Mom), is absurd to a contemporary audience. Removed from the time period in which they were created, do these images have a stronger efficacy?
Does the removal of the victim remind us of how their life was cruelly ended, erased, if you will. Does this also let the victim become anyone the viewer images him or her to be, hinting at the fact of how many people have been the victims of cruelty and terror due to race, sex, social creed, and so on? Or is the opposite true? Is the removal of the victim from these photographs taking the power away from the image and making it palatable to everyday museum goers?
I am unsure, but I keep going back and looking and thinking about what I am seeing. The composure of these people in regards to what they were seeing is so startling to me. And perhaps Gonzales Day has let me focus on that alone in these pieces, pointing out the spectator in us all.