A Day of Diptychs: Contrasting Two Photos at a Time

A Day of Diptychs: Contrasting Two Photos at a Time

For millennia, artists have used the diptych to explore duality. During medieval times, diptych panels were often connected by a hinge – part protection, part transportation-friendly design – and featured ecumenical themes. Nowadays, photography is often presented side-by-side, sometimes intentionally on the part of the photographer, as well as co-opted by consumers as a part of the meme culture. The medium has changed, but the exploration of contrasts has remained.

The intrinsic storytelling potential of diptychs make them a powerful and obvious format. Nevertheless, I was surprised to see three examples published within a 24-hour span that explored such a wide range of subject matter.

Jerusalem & Gaza

Following the opening of the controversial new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and the violent clash between Palestinian protesters and Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza, Agence France-Press journalist Patrick Galey tweeted multiple juxtaposed photos taken “at the same time” in both locations.

CNN and The New York Times took a similar tact to illustrate the events unfolding a mere 100km away.

Reuter’s Ronen Zvulan and AFP’s Mahmud Hams captured many of the incredible images of the day.

The side-by-side presentation provided an extreme contrast of rich and poor, Arab and Jew, and power and disenfranchisement in a never-ending conflict. But like most political commentary, the diptychs likely only reinforce a viewer’s belief system rather than act as a fulcrum point for nuanced discussion.

Athletes Before and After

PetaPixel featured the work of B.A. Van Sise whose project “Sweat” captures athletes before and after competition. The approach isn’t novel. Both Howard Schatz and Nicolai Howalt captured boxers before and after their matches. But unlike most photographers who have gone down this path, Van Sise doesn’t use a the same lighting set-up, outfit, or even focal length for his photos – all decisions which exaggerate the contrast of his before/after images.

Photo by B.A. Van Sise

Mississippi’s Freedom Riders

The most powerful photos are backed with incredible stories. The Lens blog featured the work of journalist and photographer Eric Ethridge who captured contemporary portraits of the Freedom Riders – hundreds of black and white volunteers who in 1961 bombarded segregated areas to compel the federal government to enforce anti-discrimination laws – juxtaposed next to their mugshots. Ethridge’s black-and-white portraits expertly use light to shape the older faces, which makes the contrast between the flat lighting of the mugshot even more glaring.

Mugshot by Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Photo by Eric Etheridge

Author Maurice Berger deftly observes:

“If these mug shots inadvertently captured the humanity and special qualities of their principled subjects, as Mr. Etheridge observed, their intention was nefarious: to publicly impugn and humiliate people whose only crime was to advocate equality through peaceful protest. No matter their purpose, mug shots inevitably imply aberrance or delinquency, whether or not the people they depict are eventually found to be guilty.”

Etheridge’s project, “Breach of Peace,” casts the marchers literally and metaphorically in a different light. Berger writes the images represent the participants “not as dehumanized icons of criminality but as exemplary citizens and complex human beings.”

The powerful images are bolstered even more by the stories of the young people who fueled a movement – and how many of them continued to work their entire professional lives to alleviate injustice and socio-economic divides.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. max at 7:36 am

    Mr. Murabayashi,

    Sad to note that you chose not to provide the name of the beautiful woman who is portrayed in these two photos. You have — inadvertently, I’m sure — chipped another piece of humanity from her by not providing us with her name.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 11:35 am

      Thanks for your comment.

      I didn’t name any of the people in any of the photos as that is not the focus of the piece. In the case of Ethridge’s work, multiple links are provided to well-reported pieces. I understand your POV, but it’s a fairly pessimistic one.

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