A pitch-black sky reveals a crowded night scene, where men and women have gathered for what seems to be a community organized function. The men and women at the foreground of the photograph are bleached-out by the flash of the camera, which emphasizes their white skin. The fashion dates the photograph to the 1930s as men are dressed in suits and wear fedoras and women wear furs. Children gather amongst the crowd. The focal point of the photograph is a bare and naked tree, whose significance in the image appears arbitrary. The crowd’s attention is scattered, some viewers gaze up at the tree while others socialize among their groups. One man looks directly at the camera while smoking a cigarette.
This image is part of Ken Gonzales-Day’s Erased Lynching series (2002-2011), which seeks to expose the history of lynching in the American West through appropriated historical photographs and archival materials from 1850 to 1935. In these images, the lynched body is obliterated from the scene and the viewer is forced to focus on the spectators present at the gathering, predominantly White American men and women. This omission raises the issue of the lynching event as spectacle, by revealing the similarities to a performance and entertainment event: the crowd, the cameraman, and the main attraction. Gonzales-Day creates a powerful commentary on the erased and forgotten history of the practice of lynching Latinos, Native-Americans, and Asian-Americans in the American West. In Gonzales-Day’s book, Lynching in the West 1850-1935, he argues that during this period in California, Latinos were lynched more than persons of any other race or ethnicity .
1. Gonzales-Day, Ken. Lynching in the West. Duke University Press 2006