The National Archives recently came under fire for doctoring an image to hide an anti-Trump message. Its ongoing exhibition Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote greets the visitors with a large photo from the Women’s March on 21 January 2017. However, the closer look reveals that the photo was edited, blurring out the signs with anti-Trump messages.
The exhibition celebrates the centennial of women’s suffrage. The Washington Post describes the photo as “a powerful display”:
“Viewed from one perspective, it shows the 2017 march. Viewed from another angle, it shifts to show a 1913 black-and-white image of a women’s suffrage march also on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
However, the closer look reveals edits that encounter strong public criticism. The 2017 photo was taken by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama. It shows marchers carrying different signs, as we usually see in protests. But “at least four” signs were digitally altered, The Washington Post explains.
The sign “God hates Trump” has been edited to remove “Trump,” so it now reads just “God hates.” Another sign, reading “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women” also has “Trump” removed. In addition, signs with messages referring to women’s anatomy were also edited. One of them reads “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED,” and it has the word “vagina” blurred out. Another sign says “This Pussy Grabs Back,” and it has the word “Pussy” edited out.
As I mentioned, the National Archives were criticized for altering the image. Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley said:
“There’s no reason for the National Archives to ever digitally alter a historic photograph. If they don’t want to use a specific image, then don’t use it. But to confuse the public is reprehensible. The head of the Archives has to very quickly fix this damage. A lot of history is messy, and there’s zero reason why the Archives can’t be upfront about a photo from a women’s march.”
A history professor at Purdue University, Wendy Kline, also criticized the National Archive’s decision. She found it “disturbing” that they edited out the words referring to female anatomy parts:
“Doctoring a commemorative photograph buys right into the notion that it’s okay to silence women’s voice and actions. It is literally erasing something that was accurately captured on camera. That’s an attempt to erase a powerful message.”
The Archive’s spokeswoman, Miriam Kleiman, explained the decision in a statement. “As a non-partisan, non-political federal agency, we blurred references to the President’s name on some posters, so as not to engage in current political controversy,” she told The Washington Post.
“Our mission is to safeguard and provide access to the nation’s most important federal records, and our exhibits are one way in which we connect the American people to those records. Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.”
As for editing the images containing words for women’s genitals, Kleiman said that this decision was made because the museum hosts many groups of students and young people. According to her, these words could be perceived as inappropriate in those cases.
Kleiman added that the Archives don’t alter “images or documents that are displayed as artifacts in exhibitions. She added that this wasn’t the case, as the image in question is “part of a promotional display, not an artifact.”
Personally, I understand that the Archives didn’t want to risk getting involved in political controversy. Also, in today’s world full of offensive snowflakes, it probably would have been risky leaving the words “vagina” and “pussy” in the photo, too. But I believe that they should have at least be transparent bout their decision and noted that the photo had been altered.
[via The Washington Post]