Associate Professor of Communication in the College of Communication and the Arts, James. J Kimble recently presented at an international conference in Lisbon, Portugal, continuing his research around "Rosie the Riveter" and the iconic WWII era poster, "We Can Do It!"
Kimble focused on the way images can transcend beyond their original purpose, taking on multiple roles throughout history. Presenting at "The Left Conference: Photography and Film Criticism" at the University of Lisbon, Kimble's work highlighted the challenges iconic images face when used to gain momentum for political motives. Kimble continued the discourse around the famous "We Can Do It!" icon, furthering his previous research around unearthing the true identity of "Rosie the Riveter."
His work introduced the theory of legend specifically regarding iconic imagery, inspired by common spy folklore. "Every spy has their own legend, or their cover. They create a fake background and a fake story to supplement their legend and hoax," shares Kimble. "When spies' have their background threatened or receive a new assignment, they have backup legends to use at hand. Similarly, iconic images also take on legends that are assumed throughout time."
The image of "Rosie the Riveter" is a well-known cultural icon, often associated with feminist propaganda; however, the image was originally commissioned by Westinghouse Electric Company to conservatively reduce worker strikes, inspire employees to work harder and reduce absenteeism. The "We Can Do It" poster rose to prominence in the 1980s after being mass produced as a representation of female empowerment.
Dr. Kimble (middle) joined by Paul Lowe (left), a lecturer from the London College of Communication, and Carla Fernanda da Silva (right), a doctoral student at the University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil.
As Kimble emphasized, its notability has led the image to stray away from its original intention, forcing new legends to surface as various initiatives use the image to advance their causes, often politically oriented. "There is this interesting dynamic where both sides of the political spectrum wish to take ownership of the icon," says Kimble.
Kimble's research was well-received, with an initial level of disbelief. At first, attendees struggled to understand the posters' original purpose, dismissing the fact "Rosie" wasn't a government-commissioned poster. After a detailed discussion, the poster's actual history, purpose and present use became more distinct and understood.
Reflecting on the conference experience, Kimble was grateful for the opportunity to share his research with other academics and further engage in detailed conversation and discussion with international colleagues.
Categories: Arts and Culture