Monday, July 27, 2009

Consider Yourself Soiled Ol' Glory!

As I have noted before I am taking a "A History of Boston" as one of my final two classes (which I have to pass by the way). In this class there are a couple books I have to read, books I may or may not have read if it were not for this class. The first book I enjoyed very little and concluded that because of it's title, appearance and plot there is very little chance I would have ever read it.

The Soiling of Old Glory by Louis P. Masur catalogs the issues and the incident behind the famous photo by photographer Stanley Forman. It uses the infamous photo to deconstruct the outbreak of racial animosity in Boston during the 1970's so we can better understand why it happened. For me it read much like a 200 page Wikipedia article, informative but at the same time dry and boring.

Having read All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald when I was younger I already have a fair grasp on the riots and violence that surrounded the forced busing of the 1970's. What really interested me was the photo, which I have never come across although I have lived in Massachusetts my whole life.

Stanley Forman
won a Pulitzer for "Old Glory" which pictures a black man being held while a young white male is poised to strike him with the tip of a pole holding an American flag. The scene takes place in front of Boston City Hall during an anti-busing demonstration which Ted Landmark (the pictured black man) was unfortunate to walk through.

Mr. Forman also won a Pulitzer for a picture he had shot a year prior to his picture of the flag. This picture (shown below) was taken at a fire in Boston, and while taking photos of the scene Mr. Forman took this photo moments after a fire escape gave way and sent the child and woman five floors to the pavement. The woman pictured died as a result of the fall while miraculously the child survived. As a result of this photo, which ran on the front page of the Herald American, Forman was characterized as an oppurtunist who chose to take pictures from safety instead of helping those in trouble. When in fact this very photo led to sweeping reform of Boston fire escape laws which have undoubtedly saved countless lives since.

The book itself is a fairly average book with a glossy cover that borrows heavily from the picture it chronicles. The font used for the title is in all caps with a paint splattering effect which leaves dots of color on the white background. It's simple and lacks originality mostly because the picture was not hard to find when the book is based on said picture.

In the end the photo itself and it's photographer are very interesting and warrant more interest on my part, but the book itself delves heavily into why the photo is visually compelling instead of simply leaving it to the reader to comprehend and providing the setting it was in (which it does but I feel the setting is lost in the details). In all likelihood I would not read this book if it were not for my class, mostly because I know the setting in which this picture took place and all I would need to see is the photo and a brief history of the actual event itself.

I feel like this post can not end so abruptly, so I'm going to dally for a moment.......wait for it........OK, now we can say goodbye.


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