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1960s Famous Historical Photographs



Capturing key historical events that are then viewed by many other generations is what many photographers aspire to accomplish. During the 1960’s, there were several events that caused a change in the American social and culture society. The photographs, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” Speechand Muhammad Ali’s boxing fight against Sonny Liston, both display an extraordinary and well known event which, in turn, left a big impression on people of that time and is still affecting today’s society. Martin Luther King shows the power of his nonviolence voice, whereas Muhammad Ali reveals the power of his famous ‘Phantom Punch’. Although both photographs have a famous character as the central focus, other elements such as light, body language of the subject, facial expression, and arrangement of their surroundings are diverse.


Light plays an important role; it captures the atmosphere of when the photograph was taken and allows the viewer to relive that exact moment. In Martin Luther King the photograph was taken in black and white, articulating its historical feel. The light is spread equally throughout the center, while the dark trees frame the photograph, exposing the different shades and skin tones. The diversity between the crowds seems to create a cheerful mood. Furthermore, natural lighting draws attention onto Martin as he waves and peacefully smiles to the attending audience. Conversely, the light in Muhammad Ali photograph has more exposure. The area is well brightened and the main focus is on the two boxers. In addition, there is a small amount of light shinning down on Muhammad, highlighting his power and the grand knockout. The use of warm colors can reflect the tension and heat of the fight. The contrasting colors regenerate the hectic environment, giving the photograph a heavy feeling and allowing the viewer to experience the loudness, yet significance of the moment.


Body language and facial expressions can showcase true feelings during a particular situation. In Martin Luther King photograph, he stands up confidently with a spontaneous smile on his face. This demonstrates how calm and grounded he was when delivering the speech. His solid postures convey the boldness of his voice; it can also indicate how firmly committed he was towards making a positive change. Finally, his facial expressions project pride, joy and most importantly hope for a better future.  On the other hand, Muhammad Ali photograph also shows power and self-belief, but in a different form. The physical aspect of supremacy is strongly present since the photograph was captured on an extremely key moment during the match. Muhammad is heavily planted to the ground, shouting with his mouth wide open, perhaps to prove he’s “the champ”. With arms folded, the muscles of his biceps are more emphasized as a symbol of power and victory while his opponent, Sonny Liston, is on the ground immobilized to continue the fight.


The arrangement of the crowd and most importantly the presence of quite a few cameramen and photographers can reveal a lot about the history behind the two photographs. Both photos were taken during a time where racism was very common. In 1963, 200 000 activists of all skin colors crowded Washington as they protest for the Civil Rights movement. The photograph was captured from an angle that gives the impression of infinity, allowing the viewer to witness the huge number of attendees. With hardly any space gaps between the crowds, it’s easy to observe the unity they have with one another. Furthermore, the purpose of Martin’s speech was to inspire change in both white and black citizens. The presence of cameramen shows the importance of documenting such a remarkable event where the impact of Martin’s speech had influenced countless number of people. Even though the racial element in America was not favorable to blacks, things were different in sports for quite some time. Boxing in particular had broken the color barrier early on. In 1965, Muhammad Ali’s photograph was taken in St.Dominick’s Arena where many people of different ethnic backgrounds gathered to watch the match.  Filled with intense emotion and astonishment, a number of the audiences are seen standing on their feet trying to grab hold of the scene. Similarly to Martin’s photograph, cameramen and reporters are spotted in the background pointing their cameras directly onto the two boxers; all aiming to capture what they know will resemble part of history.


Photographs have an incredible way of preserving important historical events. Both of these photographs depict two heroic figures; they stood up for equality and against discrimination at a time where segregation was dominating many of people’s lives. Although different aspects such as light, background arrangement, body language and facial expressions are portrayed differently, both photographs seem to deliver an inspirational message to the viewers. The courage which is mutually shown in Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali photographs motivates the viewers to fight for what they believe in.


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