Advertising Bigotry

By John Armstrong

I’m a photographer who has two photos in the upcoming Wing Luke show “Under My Skin.” I believe that one of the roles of contemporary photography and art in general is to educate, provoke and promote discussions about various issues.

One recurring theme I’m interested in is what I’ll broadly call advertising. I’m interested in what people try to do to grab our attention in this media and image-saturated world. To this end, I photograph the messages we see all around us in words, signs, images and advertisements. Some of these messages are positive or neutral and some are negative. Some have double meanings and some are ambiguous, leaving their messages up for interpretation.

In America we are fortunate to have broad freedoms of speech and expression. But these broad freedoms can allow bigotry and prejudices to be broadcast just as easily as positive messages. One of my goals is to provide photos of some of these provocative “advertisements” for others to see and think about.

To keep these issues in the public eye we need to give them visibility. What you feel or how you react to or interpret these photos is determined by many things: your race, religious beliefs, family background, your life experiences, your mood when you see them, how liberal or conservative you are… and so on.

I’m providing the following photographs for you to consider. Some are pretty straightforward in their meaning while others are open to broad interpretation. They all deal with racial or other issues of prejudice and interference with personal freedoms. I’ll provide some questions I have when viewing these photos, and you can provide your own answers/interpretations.


"I Pick The Mormon," John Armstrong

“I Pick The Mormon,” 2013, John Armstrong

Was the person who decorated this truck making a racial and/or religious comment or merely indicating that he didn’t plan to vote for President Obama?


"Cha Cha Lounge, Seattle," John Armstrong

“Cha Cha Lounge, Seattle,” 2010, John Armstrong

At first the text on this lounge window seems very open and positive but does it also seem a bit aggressive? Does it make the lounge seem like a welcoming place?


"You Cant Steal My Voice," John Armstrong

“You Cant Steal My Voice,” 2012, John Armstrong

What do these two photos, taken a few days apart, say about freedom of speech in America?


"House Down the Street," John Armstrong

“House Down the Street,” 2012, John Armstrong

What is the message the homeowner is sending to those who pass this house? What is the point of this message?


"One Way," John Armstrong

“One Way,” 2013, John Armstrong

Why is the “One Way” sign placed above the head of this carving of a Native American? Is it an indication of how Native Americans have been shuttled down one way roads for many years, a wish for them to keep going down those one way roads or is it simply a carving on the corner of a one way road?

Let’s Discuss

Racism, prejudice and discrimination are all around us even though some people may not see this as much as others. Making these kinds of photos available for all to see it reminds us that these issues still exist and hopefully serve as some starting points for discussions and ultimately actions regarding them.

About the Author: John Armstrong is an award winning Seattle-based photographer with a wide range of photographic styles and interests. John has published several books of his work, and his photographs are included in several public and private collections.

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