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Close Reading Images: James Blake Miller, the "New Marlboro Man"


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A quick introduction to the practice of close reading images, using the famous "Marlboro Man" photo of Marine Corporal James Blake Miller as an example

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Close Reading Images: James Blake Miller, the "New Marlboro Man"

  1. 1. Close  Reading  Images: Going  Deep  into  Two  DimensionsSunday, September 18, 11
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  3. 3. Recently,  some  of  his  Marine  buddies  have  been  calling  Miller   up,  crying  drunk,  and  remembering  their  war  experiences.  Just   like  Papaw  Joe  Lee  used  to  do  when  Miller  was  a  boy.   "Theres  a  lot  of  Vietnam  vets  ...  they  dont  heal  unIl  30,  40   years  down  the  road,"  Miller  said.  "People  boMle  it  up,   become  angry,  easily  temperamental,  and  hell,  before  you   know  it,  these  are  the  people  who  are  snapping  on  you."   Jessica  interrupted.  "Youre  already  like  that,"  she  said.   She  recalled  her  own  first  glimpse  of  the  Marlboro  Man  -­‐-­‐  an   image  seen  through  tears  of  relief  that  he  was  alive,  and   misery  at  how  worn  he  looked.   "Some  people  thought  it  was  sexy,  and  we  thought,  Oh,  my   God,  hes  in  the  middle  of  a  war,  close  to  death.  We  just   couldnt  understand  how  some  people  could  look  at  it  like   that,"  she  said.  "But  I  guess  for  some  people  it  was  glory,  like   patrioIsm."  Sunday, September 18, 11
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  6. 6. • Photographs are not actually objective • They come from individual perspectives • They often perform specific jobs • They contribute to familiar narratives • They often make arguments • They work both directly and indirectlySunday, September 18, 11
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  8. 8. • What job does it do? • What argument does it seem to make? • Why are we seeing it? • What story is it telling? • How do different viewers interpret the image?Sunday, September 18, 11
  9. 9. Consider its elements: • Close focus on the face • Face painted, dirty, bleeding • Cigarette hanging loosely, almost casually • Smoke billowing around and in front of the Marine’s face • Eyes squinting, looking “over our shoulders”: reads of alertness, “hard edge,” almost reminiscent of James Dean • Little to no background or terrain, except desert gray • Face framed by the helmet and the strapSunday, September 18, 11
  10. 10. Consider its context: • After a day of bloody fighting during the battle for Fallujah • At that point, this battle had claimed more American lives than any other campaign in the Iraq war • The battle for Fallujah was fought door-to-door, in the streets and in the houses, instead of from the air or from a distance. • The Iraq War was beginning to become less “popular” back in the US, but still held support among a majority of Americans.Sunday, September 18, 11
  11. 11. Sunday, September 18, 11
  12. 12. Consider its elements: • Once more: focus on the face, but in profile, with hand loosely up • Face is clean—and looks radically different. Rounder, softer, much less strong. • Cigarette is still here, but it feels very different here: the hold, the ash—even the length—all seem less at ease. • Eyes look away, now downward: feels like regret, like loss. • We see part of the USMC tattoo—but it’s upside down and partially obscured.Sunday, September 18, 11
  13. 13. Consider its context: • 2007: near the end of the Bush administration. The war is much less popular, and more than half of the American public are now in favor of withdrawal. • It had become hard to identify, clearly, why the US was still fighting in Iraq: many used the word “quagmire” to describe the war. • The article was talking about the difficult conditions soldiers returned to in the US, and of the toll that the war had taken on them.Sunday, September 18, 11
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  15. 15. Consider its elements and contextSunday, September 18, 11
  16. 16. To  wrap  up: • Photos  feel  objecIve—they  feel  like  the  truth • At  the  very  same  .me,  they  tell  stories  and   support  arguments. • Both  photos  were  wholly  and  completely  true. • Both  supported  radically  different  stories  and   arguments—about  the  Iraq  War,  about   heroism,  about  us—even  about  smoking.Sunday, September 18, 11