Dissertation Discussion: Destinee

Benedict J. Fernandez, Photograph from a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Central Park, April 5, 1968

What is the working title of your dissertation? 

Readdressing Passivity in 1960’s Civil Rights Photographs through Dress

What led you to choose this subject?

I was inspired to write about the idea of protest wear in relation to the black body after seeing the King in New York exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. I became quite fascinated by the idea of protest buttons after seeing Benedict J. Fernandez’s Photograph from a Memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Central Park from April 5, 1968 on view. There is exhaustive scholarship on the Civil Rights Movement and for that reason my main objective in my dissertation was to find a new angle of viewing civil rights photographs that was not reductive or contrived. Reading civil rights photographs through dress and both individual and collective dress practice in moments of protest proved to be an interesting way of critiquing the reading of the black body as being passive or docile in the face of white-aggressive as reading it as an active embodiment of resistance.

Ivan Massar, Doris Wilson on the Selma to Montgomery March, Alabama, 1965, Gelatin silver print, Image/plat: 13 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄2 inches, copyright Ivan Massar, Access: https://prod.high.org/collections/doris-wilson-on-the-selma-to- montgomery-march-alabama/

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

My favorite book that I have read for my dissertation has been bell hook’s Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992). The way in which hooks deconstructs and provides alternative ways of viewing blackness really helped push me to look at the images used in my dissertation in different ways. My second favorite read would have to be Sharon Sliwinki’s Dreaming in Dark Times: Six Exercises in Political Thought (2017) because I thought it was so interesting how she aligned dreaming and more specifically dream-work as a radical political action that could be situated within the context of the social sphere.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

My favorite image I wrote about is a photograph of the Washington Monument and part of the United States flag reflected in sunglasses of a young boy called Austin Clinton Brown from the March on Washington in August of 1963. I think the image is quite powerful in that it addresses the idea that the American dream is an illusion in the way that these symbols of American freedom are distorted and warped on the reflective surface of the young boy’s sunglasses.

Washington Monument and part of the U.S. flag reflected in sunglasses of Austin Clinton Brown, 9, of Gainesville, GA, March on Washington, August 28th 1963
Access: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/national-international/NATL-The-1963-March-on-Washington-in- Photos-219401841.htm

Favorite place to work?

Hands down, my favorite place to work is the Gallery Café in Bethnal Green. It is a vegetarian and vegan café with both indoor and outdoor seating with lots of natural light and great music. I have spent many days work there and they have the most delicious “loaded” vegan chili fries.