images and history, part three

In the last post I touched on some history paintings and their subjective nature, but this time it’s photography that I want to focus on, it is Chris’s chosen medium after all. So I thought I’d start this post with a photo of Marilyn Monroe.

Associated Press promo of Marilyn Monroe for the Seven Year Itch

Associated Press promo photo of Marilyn Monroe for the Seven Year Itch

This was the first image that came up when I did a google image search for ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and it’s the kind of image that most people would have in mind when discussing Monroe. According to the official Monroe site here, Marilyn is remembered as

more than just a move star or glamour queen. A global sensation in her lifetime, Marilyn’s popularity has extended beyond star status to icon. Today, the name “Marilyn Monror” is synonymous with beauty, sensuality and effervesence.

And judging by the number of images floating around that are similar to this one, you’d have to be hard-pushed to think anything different. Except I do. Look at this photograph of Monroe by Richard Avedon.

Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon

Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon (1957)

This is one of my favourite photographs, simply because I think it depicts Norma Jeane and not Marilyn Monroe, it’s Marilyn when she comes down from the performance of being Marilyn, and that is insightful enough in and of itself, but taken together with Monroe’s own words, it offers another perspective on her life;

I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.

But how does this relate to history and the Tower? It’s probably never been said before, but the Tower of London works in the same way as Marilyn Monroe. Here’s the first photo I found of the Tower on google images;

The first image of the Tower of London from Google Images

The Tower of London the way visitors like to see it

It’s the image of the Tower visitors want to see, the fortress by the river, hard to miss and very much ‘in yer face’, as was intended when it was built.  Chris’s project at the Tower is quite different, it’s very much about exploring the site over multiple visits, to see what lies after the one-off visitor experience that takes in the White Tower, Yeoman Warders, ravens, etc.  In exactly the same way as Richard Avdeon offered insight into one icon, Chris will be offering insight into another icon that belongs to the world, the Tower of London.


2 thoughts on “images and history, part three

  1. Alex, If Marilyn was a symbol of “beauty, sensuality and effervesence“ what would you say the Tower is a symbol of? I understand that the Normans built the Tower of London as a symbol of dominance over the conquered Saxons but that symbolism has obviously changed as much as the actual physical building.

  2. Both Marilyn and the Tower are national symbols in a quest for authenticity. Marilyn’s success authenticates the American Dream, while the Tower authenticates the history of the nation and the monarchy.
    Interestingly enough, just as the elements of Marilyn’s troubled life are brushed over, so are the Tower’s, as for numerous reasons we do not interpret the great fracture in English history, the Civil War.

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