This quarter, I am taking a seminar class for my Communication Studies degree called The Public Image. In this class, we read and discuss about the influence and history of photography from when it was first created to its present function in our everyday lives. As I have learned in class, each photo ever taken has a purpose, whether it is for the photographer or for the subject photographed. Based on the context and the time of when a photo is take, this gives a photo its meaning for an audience and subsequently, the meaning can change over time and give a new meaning to a new generation.
From this class, it has made me think of photography in a new light and how great of an impact it can actually have. I then read this recent article published by People Magazine called “See Rosie the Riveter at 95: Woman Who Inspired WWII Poster Was Lost to History for 7 Decades”, which discussed how the icon woman in the photo was mislabeled for decades. Naomi Parker-Fraley went to a reunion at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park where she noticed a photograph of herself but with the name Geraldine in the caption. The photo is of her wearing the signature red-and-white-polka-dot bandana and worker jumpsuit, working on a turret lathe in 1942. In the article, it was said that the photo is, “believed to have caught the eye of artists J. Howard Miller, whose 1943 Rosie the Riveter poster bears a striking resemblance to Parker-Fraley’s photo.” The photo was misidentified with the woman, Geraldine Hoff Doyle, for more than 30 years and after talking professors and media to set the record straight, she “is ready for the spotlight” as the article says.
After reading this, I found it incredible how a simple photo like the one of her in 1942 spurred a man to form a work of art that later transformed and motivated millions of women to join forces and work in the war effort during World War II. The “We Can Do It!” poster is a national icon of the past and present; I even have a copy of the poster hanging in my room from the Smithsonian Institute, where the original rests in place. The work of art has lived on in history and for our generation as a symbol of women empowerment and for supporting feminist values.
One simple photo taken of a working woman in the World War II war effort sparked inspiration for millions back then and still has an influence today. The fact that the actual woman depicted in the photo and in the famous work of art by J. Howard Miller has been misidentified for so long is saddening and should be fixed. She should be recognized for the importance of what was captured in the photo and what is symbolized: a simple woman, working for her country, wanting to make a difference and inspire others to do the same.