A gaunt woman stares into the bleakness of the Great Depression. An exuberant sailor plants a kiss on a nurse in the heart of Times Square. A naked Vietnamese girl runs in terror from a napalm attack. An unarmed man stops a tank in Tiananmen Square. These and a handful of other photographs have become icons of public culture: widely recognized, historically significant, emotionally resonant images that are used repeatedly to negotiate civic identity. But why are these images so powerful? How do they remain meaningful across generations? What do they expose—and what goes unsaid?
In No Caption Needed, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites provide the definitive study of the iconic photograph as a dynamic form of public art. Their critical analyses of nine individual icons explore the photographs themselves and their subsequent circulation through an astonishing array of media, including stamps, posters, billboards, editorial cartoons, TV shows, Web pages, tattoos, and more. As these iconic images are reproduced and refashioned by governments, commercial advertisers, journalists, grassroots advocates, bloggers, and artists, their alterations throw key features of political experience into sharp relief. Iconic images are revealed as models of visual eloquence, signposts for collective memory, means of persuasion across the political spectrum, and a crucial resource for critical reflection.
Arguing against the conventional belief that visual images short-circuit rational deliberation and radical critique, Hariman and Lucaites make a bold case for the value of visual imagery in a liberal-democratic society. No Caption Needed is a compelling demonstration of photojournalism’s vital contribution to public life.
"[The authors] make an eloquent and compelling case, in print, for the centrality of the photographic icon to American cultural debate."