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Maker(s):Van Der Zee, James
Culture:American (1886-1983)
Title:Funeral, WWI Veterans
Date Made:ca. 1920 (negative); printed later
Materials:photograph, mounted on cardboard
Measurements:Mount: 10 7/8 in x 13 7/8 in; 27.6 cm x 35.2 cm; Sheet: 8 3/4 in x 6 1/4 in; 22.2 cm x 15.9 cm
Accession Number:  AC 1983.128
Credit Line:Collection of the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College
Museum Collection:  Mead Art Museum at Amherst College

Part of collection of 31 photographs focusing on black culture.

Label Text:
This photograph highlights the intrinsic qualities of language and juxtaposition and how their creative capacities enrich—even dictate—the interpretations of combinations of text and image.

On the right side of each of the two images that compose Van Der Zee’s Funeral, WWI Veterans, the soldiers stand in front of a funeral home. On the left side, they stand in front of a shop advertising dyeing services. The juxtaposition of “FUNERAL DIRECTOR” and “DYEING” suggests that we supplant “dyeing” with its homophone for the expiration of life: “dying.” Homophones (words that sound like other words with different meanings) are one aspect of language that allows for wordplay. The “dyeing”/“dying” play on words is not humorous, however, but melancholy and profound: it brings to mind the heightened risk of death inherent in a soldier’s job and acts as a memento mori, reminding viewers that everyone is, in fact, at varying paces, dying.

MD, PHOTOdocument exhibition, March 30, 2012-July 22, 2012

photographs; funeral rites and ceremonies; soldiers; stairs

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