Photograph by Warren K. Leffler from 1963; Retrieved from the Library of Congress Photograph by Dorothea Lange from 1942; Retrieved from the Library of Congress Photograph by Gordon Parks from 1942

Images (left) © Warren K. Leffler from 1963, (middle) © Dorothea Lange from 1942, and (right) © Gordon Parks from 1942; Retrieved from the Library of Congress

The Democratic Lens

Photography and Civic Engagement

The Democratic Lens discussion series examines how images have shaped America’s collective memory and inspired individuals to participate in civic life.

A fundamental principle of democracy is the active participation of people in civic life. The Democratic Lens will portray photography's role in propelling civic actions by sharing images and stories about mobilized communities who actively work together towards a more just and democratic society. This discourse will address the historical and contemporary relationship between photography and civic engagement in the U.S. through pivotal moments in history like the Civil War, Civil Rights Movement, 9/11 and rural poverty during the Great Depression that helped to shape America’s cultural landscape.

Coming Soon


CENTER's expansive network of photographers, curators, editors, art
historians, and scholars share their research

Photograph of Andy Everson by Will Wilson

Andy Everson, citizen of the K’Omoks Nation, holds an image of his grandmother who played Princess Naida in Edward S. Curtis’s film, “In the Land of the Headhunters.” CIPX Seattle Art Museum, 2016 from the series Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX)
© Will Wilson



Photograph by Dorothea Lange from 1938; Retrieved from the Library of Congress

Oakland, Calif., Mar. 1942. A large sign reading "I am an American" placed in the window of a store, at [401 - 403 Eighth] and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, will be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war
© Dorothea Lange, retrieved from the Library of Congress

Photograph by Gordon Parks from 1942

Ella Watson, Washington, D.C. Government charwoman / American Gothic, 1942
© Gordon Parks, retrieved from the Library of Congress


Review Santa Fe Symposium, Sunday, November 20 10am-2pm
LaFonda Hotel, Santa Fe, NM, Free and open to the public

  1. Instrumental Democracy and Photography's Influence with Laura Wexler, Charles H. Farnam Professor of Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Yale University
  2. War/Photography: Empathy As A Perspective with Anne Wilkes Tucker, Curator Emerita, Museum of Fine Arts Houston
  3. What Can’t Be Unseen: Photography and Activism, Dr. Kymberly Pinder, Dean, Yale School of Art

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