Provocative Photography


mbfitzmahan. 2017. Oakland Women’s March. Women are Human Beings.

Photography has the ability to influence world politics and public opinion.  I took the photo above three weeks ago, the day after the Trump inauguration.   I marched with my husband, my two daughters, and their families and friends down the streets of Oakland to not only say we support women’s rights, but to advise the Trump administration and the Republican Congress that,  “We will not go quietly into the night,” to paraphrase Dylan Thomas.


The following photo is by Eddie Adams, an AP photographer assigned to Vietnam during the Vietnam War (1955-1975).  This photo is of a South Vietnamese General executing a Viet Cong suspect.  The outrageous act, so offended Americans at home that the photo added kindle to an American opposition to the war.

Eddie Adams.  1968.  Pulitzer winning photography of General Nguyên Van Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon.

This 1989 photo of one young man facing the Chinese army during the protests at Tiananmen Square, is considered one of the most incendiary photos of the 20th century.  No one knows what happened to the young man, but this photo is a persistent symbol of protest against oppressive governments.

Jeff Widener. 1989. The Tank Man, Tiananmen Square, Beijing – People’s Republic of China

Great works of photojournalism make me feel that a great photographer was in the right place at the right time.  But, I am not a photojournalist and seldom have the opportunity to make photos like these.


How can I provoke with my photos?  So, what if we are not a photojournalist, and still want to be heard.  How do we make moving pieces of art, let others know how we feel, and even have some impact with our art?

Barbara Kruger - We don't need another hero from 1987.jpg
Barbara Kruger.  1987. We don’t need another hero.

Many of Barbara Kruger‘s photos are accompanied with red banners and text in white. This photo piece was an argument for women’s rights.  Kruger has said that “I work with pictures and words because they have the ability to determine who we are and who we aren’t.”(Kruger 2010)

Andy Warhol. 1964. Big Electric Chair (Screenprint and acrylic paint on canvas)

Warhol, a New Yorker, took the controversial issue of the death penalty and translated it into art.  Warhol obtained a photograph of this empty execution chamber, after two executions in Sing Sing prison in 1963, and made it the basis of his silkscreen print.

J.R. 2007. Face to Face

In 2007, French photographer, J.R. went to Israel and illegally posted massive portraits of Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of the separation barrier.   J.R. observed people and he filmed them gawking at the huge portraits.  He stopped some of the pedestrians, and asked if they could tell which were faces of Israelis and which were Palestinians.  His photos are a powerful reminder that all people are the same.  Watch J.R.’s 2011 T.E.D. TALK.

The photo below is by Leonard Fink, an amateur and self taught photographer.  It is a photo of the 1969 riots in New York City.  The Stonewall riots are viewed as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.  Fink observed the gay culture in New York.Because he felt a need to hide that he was gay, most people didn’t know that the photographer who documented the rich gay culture in New York in the late 60s was a gay man himself.

Leonard Fink. 1969. Greenwich Village, New York City.  Stonewall Riots

I took the following Stonewall Inn photo in November 2016.  Today this part of Greenwich Village is warm and accepting of gay and straight, where people call the neighborhood home.   In June 2016, President Barack Obama established a 7.7-acre area around the site of the ’69 riots as the Stonewall National Monument, America’s first LGBT national park site.

mbfitzmahan. 2016. The Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, NY. Neighbors.

Today, I am dealing with my feelings about the erratic words and actions of Donald Trump, and the questionable agenda of the administration and the Republican Congress.  I would like to find ways to effectively use my photography to provoke change in the status quo.




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