Guatemalan Mother and Son

Guatemalan mother and son_tif480
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One Essay Response

  1. christinewattermann says:

    Titled “Guatemalan Mother and Son”, Rachel Tanur’s photography captures the life of a mother and her young child. The women proves a representation of womanhood and embodies the traditional, socialized duties of a women. Viewers are able to discern the symbols from the photograph by examining the dress, emotions, and relationship between mother and son. To a viewer from a Western culture, the clothing becomes a symbol of a culture that is separate from their own. The signs given by these clothes signify the economic status of the figures in the photo. Additionally, the emotions and relationship between mother and son signify the maternal role embodied by the women. The women lovingly and protectingly clutches her child emphasizing the job of the women to be domestic servant and childcare provider. Through semiology, the viewer is able to discern the cultural environment and role of the women. Tanur’s photograph serves as a symbol of the hardships faced by Guatemalan indigenous women.
    In Guatemala, indigenous women are considered to be the bottom of the social hierarchy. In accordance, indigenous women is “more likely than all her fellow citizens to be sick, illiterate, poor and overwhelmed by too many unplanned children. That’s if she’s not dead already” (Wulfhorts). These women are “discriminated against one, because [they] are poor, second, because we are indigenous and because [they] are women” (Wulfhorts). Additionally, Guatemala has one of the highest rates of infanticide and according to the United Nations, at least two women are killed each day (Wulfhorts).
    However, the assumption that this women is a helpless indigenous woman serves as more of a reflection of the Western culture and our automatic beliefs about those who seem to be different than us. As spectators, or “the subject position of the individual who looks”, we often jump to conclusions about the economic and social state of those found in photographs (Sturken and Cartwright 103). Traditional photographs of other cultures perpetuate stereotypes and furthers the idea of the other, a way “to describe self-consciousness as a component of the self-aware individual” which becomes a “vehicle through which the self is recognized” (Sturken and Cartwright 113). We are able to separate ourselves from the people that we see in these photos perhaps due to their dress or environment. We perceive these people in the photographs as being desperate for our help and these ideas prove detrimental as they perpetuate the white savior complex, or the idea that whites need to rescue other cultures. It is not innately our desires to salvage others, instead we are socialized into believing and fulfilling the idea of white savior complex. Accordingly, elementary-aged children in the United Kingdoms believe that 50-75% of the world’s children are malnourished although the figure is less than 2% (Alam). Additionally it has been reported that children believe only 10-20% of school-aged children attend school when the actual figure is nearly 90% (Alam). Education and advertisements further these assumptions and othering by presenting the West with pictures of “the other” as unsophisticated, helpless, and uneducated. These beliefs are only reinforced by the reiteration of facts such as the ones provided about the danger facing Guatemalan indigenous women.
    Therefore, it is important to not other those that are a part of our culture and necessary to check one’s assumptions when viewing a photograph. Tanur’s photograph does not paint a picture of extreme poverty, rather her work demonstrates the deep relational connection between mother and child.

    Alam, Shahidul. “The Visual Representation of Developing Countries by Development Agencies and the Western Media.” ZoneZero, 30 May 1934.

    Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. “Modernity: Spectatorship, The Gaze, and Power.” Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford University Press, 2018, pp. 89-138

    Wulfhorts, Ellen. “Indigenous and Female: Life at the Bottom in Guatemala.” Thompson Reuters, 2 May 2017.