Models Monday: Meaning

I have become a Pinterest fanatic. I have over 30 Boards and more than 960 Pins. Pinterest helps me visually reify abstract ideas into neat categories. Many of the ideas conveyed here on this blog also appear on my Boards. Thus, I have categorized images according to themes of beauty, reflection, mourning and loss, kindness, as well as the possibility for living by other models that could make for a good life.

Pinterest keeps track of who follows your site, the work of your followers, and the pins copied from your Boards. The most commonly captured pin from my Boards is this Bill Eppridge photograph of Ben Chaney: epperidge_06

Little Ben Chaney sits erect in the family car as it proceeds to the funeral of his older brother James. James Chaney was one of three civil rights workers killed during Freedom Summer in 1964. The commonly used flyer depicted below features photographs of the three men:

Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were murdered in Nashoba County, Mississippi in 1964,
I certainly find the photograph of Ben Chaney terribly sad. It highlights the human wreckage of racial violence as it reverberates beyond any singlular person’s death. Eppridge has suggested that the power of the photograph stems from the wealth of possible meanings in little Ben’s eyes. I wonder if the people who repin this image are doing so for the reason Eppridge suggests; they’re compelled by the meaning held in the boy’s eyes. I don’t know what folk think because they rarely comment and I never do the work of determining  where the pin lands.

Personally, this Eppridge photograph matters to me because of its precision. To me, Ben Chaney appears certain about what this moment in his life means. Despite the family surrounding him, Ben’s position amidst them conveys his understanding that in his grief, as it impacts his unique life experience, he is entirely alone. What I’ve learned from reflecting on my own investment in specific images is the clear, crisp statements they make that grips me rather than questions provoked. To that end, there are photographs of children depicted in the aftermath of war who sit crying amidst the rubble that interest me because of a general claim that they make about the cost of war. Then there are other photographs of children depicted in the aftermath of war who have an interpretation of war’s cost. As a companion to Eppridge’s photograph of Ben Chaney, the photograph captured of an orphan girl in Iraq conveys an enthralling truth, a knowing, that deeply compels me. The unnamed Iraqi photographer who captured this image of an unnamed little girl who has never seen her mom illustrates my investment in this experience of encountering truth:


According to what I’ve read, the child drew an outline of a mother on the ground and fell asleep cuddled inside her. This little girls knows the experience of loss and can tell you about what being orphaned feels like. She can tell you about her desire to feel comforted and to feel protected in the body of her mother. For some of us who search for meaning, the quest in itself is thrilling. For others who have the kind of knowing that little Ben Chaney and the little orphaned girl possess makes me wonder if I ever want to actually know the truth, the meaning of life, or if I’d rather spend all my days questing.

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