Double (Consciousness/Negative)

Photomontage [March 2014]


My second attempt at photo montage, this time with some photo editing knowledge, is more politically motivated, as per the guidelines for the seminar in which this work was produced, and the two pieces I’ve refined up to this point both deal with issues of race and slavery in the United States.

The first piece [1], entitled “Double Consciousness,” speaks to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of the same name. In “The Souls of Black Folk,” Du Bois explains, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness— an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

My goal in creating this image is to suggest that whites in America must actively double their own consciousness, to view themselves through the eyes of those who have suffered under a system of white privilege. I want this image to imply that the white woman in the photo is purposefully conjuring up images of antebellum America while reflecting on her own image so that she is viewing both herself and the slaves of American history. I knew I needed a mirror to appear in this image because we look into a mirror when we wan to purposefully reflect. Du Bois’ point about double consciousness is that it is an inherent part of African Americanness, whether or not an African American is intentionally reflecting on his or her identity. Since white Americans didn’t inherit this double consciousness, it is our job to perform the task of doubling ourselves, to disrupt how we see ourselves, to make ourselves as self-aware of our race as we’ve made African Americans of theirs. I wanted the mirror to be cracked to suggest the ways in which this self-reflection might [and should] fracture our preconceived notions of ourselves. When a mirror isn’t cracked, it seamlessly reflects your image back at you, but when it is cracked, it forces you to become aware of reflection and subject imagination. A cracked mirror forces the woman to consider the ways in which she’s problematically constructing and maintaining her privileged identity as a white woman. The translucent image of slaves presents the gaze of those outside that privilege, implying that the woman is now purposely reflecting on her identity as it is constructed and maintained through the lens of her race and her country’s racial history.

I used a woman instead of a man because I wanted to recognize my own positionally as a white woman in relation to this issue. And it’s important for viewers of the piece to understand that white privilege is not restricted to the male gender and that intersectionality is always foundational to addressing issues of privilege across race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.

Photo References:
Vorsteher, H (Photographer). Studio portrait of mid adult woman looking into broken mirror [Photograph], Retrieved February 12, 2014, from:

No Title [Photograph]. Retrieved February 12, 2014, from:

The second piece [2], “Double Negative,” was inspired by a poem of the same name written by my late professor, mentor, and friend, whose work focused on martyrs of the Civil Rights movement in the South. His entire poem, “Double Negative” can be viewed here.* The poem is an ekphrastic one about a photo very similar to this in which two black men hang lynched in front of a crowd of white witnesses. York imagines the world of that photograph’s negative in which black and white are inverted, leaving a black crowd to witness a white man hanging. I split this photo in half to create a visual space for both the negative and the developed photo. I chose to make the right side of the photo the negative side because the crowd on that side looks more fearful, while the crowd on the developed photo side are more easily implicated in the lynching [particularly the man pointing toward the bodies].

All text in the photo is borrowed from York’s poem, and the text I placed on the right side of the image talks back to the image and to the viewer. It reads the image for you, explaining how the witnesses are aware of their being witnessed, which then implicates the viewer in a kind of witnessing as well. The stanza on the left side of the image similarly uses language that speaks to both the diegetic world of the photo [“must be hung”] and the photo as image [“this picture, this pane”]. I wanted to create a sense of circularity that impacts both the subjects of the photo and the viewer of the photo at the same time, suggesting that no image, no act of framing, and no act of witnessing is innocent nor benign. The larger text at the bottom is also a line from the poem, one that speaks both to the world that exists in the photo [there is no negative, meaning there is no world in which a crowd of blacks gathers to witness the public lynching of a white in the United States], and to the photo as something material. I placed “but,” that negating conjunction of doubt, on the negative side of the photo, the version of the world that never existed but for a moment in a photographic negative, which the quote itself tells us doesn’t exist.

*My intention in this photomontage is to visualize a moment in the poem for which it is named, a moment which is an imaging that I find important for forcing white people to confront our privilege that has been perpetually enforced and reenforced by American histories of oppression and slavery. My intention is not to appropriate and/or proliferate images of the violence of oppression, so I am not uploading the image to this website. My hesitancy to share this photomontage provoked a seminar discussion about who is allowed to use images of violence and oppression and to what purpose and in what context, which is a conversation I hope to see more of in the age of digital media image proliferation.

Photo References:
[1] Beitler, L (Photographer). (1930). The Lynching of Young Blacks [Photograph], Retrieved February 12, 2014, from:

[2] Because of the graphic nature of this photo, I am not posting it online.