Catherine Manthey: Analysis of Yasuyoshi Chiba’s ‘Straight Voice’

CMN150, Task 1, Part A

A young man, illuminated by mobile phones, recites protest poetry while demonstrators chant slogans calling for civilian rule, during a blackout in Khartoum, Sudan. Cr Yasuyoshi Chiba

Yasuyoshi Chiba’s photograph, ‘Straight Voice’, depicts a young man reciting protest poetry during civilian unrest in Khartoum, Sudan. He is illuminated by mobile phone flashlights, as there was a blackout at the time the photograph was taken. The striking photograph draws viewers in both with the subject matter it depicts (drawing on elements of action, drama, and human interest), but also with the fact that it does not feel static or staged, with the movement of the picture clear and easy to imagine.

The subject of the photo is very clear, being right in the centre and the most visible person in what is otherwise quite a dark image. The colour pallet of the image is simple, and the most obvious colour isthe pale blue of the main subject’s shirt – further making the subject stand out in the dark image and drawing the viewer’s attention to them.  It is important to note that the colour of the subject’s shirt is not overly saturated, making the subject seem further away from the camera amongst the group of the people.

The viewer’s eyes are also kept in the centre of the photograph (on the subject) by the darkness framing the photo. Since a viewer’s eyes are naturally drawn to the lightest part of a photograph, the light centre – both created by the phone flashlight and the pale colour of the subject’s shirt – contrasts with the darkened background and foreground of the photograph. This essentially puts the subject in the ‘spotlight’ of the photo, making them the centre of the viewer’s attention.

The mobile phone flashlights surrounding the subject of the photograph imitate the look of stadium lights, and further draws the viewer’s attention to the main subject. This also employs the dramatic effect of using back lighting to illuminate the subject, giving the photograph a sense of depth.

On a different note, the knowledge that the light is created by mobile phone flashlights adds a human element to the photograph and makes the image feel more natural. The low (but intense) lighting creates a high-contrast effect on the subject’s face, highlighting the emotion and making it very clear to the viewer. There is also a large contrast between the dark night sky and the phone flashlights, creating a sharp horizon line above the centre of the photograph and further reminding the viewer of the blackout that is occurring during the protest. In turn, that interests the viewer by drawing on the interest element of drama and action. Depth is also given to the photograph by the varying focus on people around the subject; with those closest to the camera (and furthest away) are in soft focus, and the subject in the middle being in sharp focus.

The shift in focus from sharper and brighter (people closest to the subject), to softer and darker (people furthest from the subject) suggests to the viewer that more action is occurring outside of the photograph, and that this was taken in quite a large crowd of people.

Overall, this photographer has effectively captured the emotion and action within the photograph and the protests that were occurring when it was taken.

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