Images (left) © Warren K. Leffler from 1963, (middle) © Gordon Parks from 1942, and (right) © Dorothea Lange from 1938; retrieved from the Library of Congress

CENTER is pleased to announce that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded us the necessary funding to implement a new discussion series, The Democratic Lens: Photography and Civic Engagement. With the generous support of the NEH, CENTER will produce a series of public lectures exploring the historical relationship between photography and civic engagement. We are honored to be counted among the selected projects across the country focusing on the history of America’s democracy.

The tools that perpetuate civic action have evolved as technology has advanced. As citizens have become better equipped with tools for communication, self-representation, and connection, they have, in turn, become more capable of inspiring civic action within their community. Among the many tools for civic engagement, photography stands out as one of the most impactful technologies for amplifying American communities’ diverse and complex voices. Photography is a powerful communication medium, and it has evolved to be an essential device for influencing the history, culture, and future of the national narrative. The discussion series will portray photography’s role in propelling civic actions by sharing powerful images and stories about mobilized communities who actively work together to create a more just and democratic society.

Guided by a multidisciplinary Scholar Advisory Council, The Democratic Lens programs will explore historical accounts of American populations who used photography as a tool for reshaping the cultural landscape of the United States. Through the lens of photographic history, the series will explore the democratic process, equity, and citizens’ capacity to influence a nation. We will tell the stories that shaped the country by reviewing the role of photography in American labor rights, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, indigenous movements, and more. We will examine the historical trajectory of photography, lens-based media, and image-sharing platforms. The discussions will relate historical milestones of the past to contemporary examples of photography in civic engagement to illustrate how photography has become a primary instrument of civic participation.

The Democratic Lens lecture series will include six sections, each with a corresponding humanities theme, historical era, and selection of contributing scholars. In alignment with NEH Special Initiative’s “A More Perfect Union” theme, scholars will present photographs that connect audiences to the diverse cultures, landscapes, histories, and individuals who collectively shaped the nation. The Democratic Lens will prioritize underrepresented histories to emphasize the diversity of the citizenry. We will present accounts that illustrate the challenges our country has endured and the stories of how Americans have worked together to overcome them.

The programs will include free and open to the public lectures, interviews, and essays in 2022-23. Please stay tuned for more information as we unfold this exciting lecture series for our audiences.

IMAGE CREDITS:
left – Image Man in wheelchair at the march on Washington, D.C., 1963 © Warren K. Leffler, retrieved from the Library of Congress
middle – Image Washington, D.C. government chairwoman / American Gothic, 1942 © Gordon Parks, retrieved from the Library of Congress
right – Image Near Manteca, California. Formerly rehabilitation clients. Now operating own farm under Tenant Purchase Act. A year and a half ahead on their payments. Family labor harvesting milo maize. Average loan for purchase of farm and improvements in San Joaquin County is seven thousand four hundred and sixty-five dollars, 1938 © Dorothea Lange, retrieved from the Library of Congress

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the {article, book, exhibition, film, program, database, report, web resource}, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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