Meet a Lucerna Author: Yujay Masah

Yujay will present her civil rights photography study at the Lucerna Symposium on March 11. For more about Yujay’s work, keep reading.

What is your Lucerna project about?

The title of my study is “Civil Rights Photography and Consensus Memory.” I address photography, the Civil Rights Movement, and consensus memory, which is the most common narrative of a time period, event, or movement. It is what we all learn in school and see in movies, and it is essentially the standard way of talking about a certain time period. In my paper, I look at how the photographs from the Civil Rights Movement inform this common narrative and our collective understanding of the movement. I look at the photos in detail, examining the contexts in which they appear and explain the narrative and visual stories they tell.

Why are you interested in this topic?

I’m interested in this topic because it is an intersection of my favorite subjects: historical photography and historical literacy. I think one of the most important things for people to know is how to understand and interpret our history, which comes in many formats from films and documentaries to books and exhibits. One of the most accessible and engaging ways to learn about history is through photographs. I think they capture people’s attention and imagination more than a lot of other vehicles for history, because they can be striking, beautiful, and thought provoking. I also think they are more accessible because photographs easy to find in our digital age and everyone understands (to some degree) how to look at a photo and understand the story it tells. In that sense, photographs can be excellent tools for teaching history. I also think that today, when Black people are demonstrating and fighting for equality, and that fight is more visible than ever thanks to social media, it’s important for people to know how to read the photos they are seeing and understand the stories they’re telling. I hope that when people read my essay that they can apply these same ideas to the photographs of contemporary activists that they see today.

What have been the benefits and challenges of this project?

One of the biggest benefits has been having the opportunity to connect my interests in art history and history. I am really interested in the ways that art informs how we understand history and vice versa. Some of the photographs I discussed wouldn’t be the first that come to mind when you think of photography as an art form, but all photos have a place in the history of the practice, and I was able to discuss that in this project. As for challenges, a big one was keeping this paper concise. I think I could have written another ten pages about the connection between the photographs from the Civil Rights Era and the contemporary photos we see of Black Lives Matter activists. Another challenge came from the Covid-19 pandemic and getting primary sources. I think I missed out on using two or three newspapers because of shutdowns and restrictions, but ultimately, I was still able to produce a paper that I was really proud of.

What is your advice for students who are interested in publishing their work in Lucerna?

I would say that no matter what your paper is about, if it’s one you are proud of and the subject is one you are passionate about, submit the paper. The journal covers a variety of subjects  and being passionate about the paper and the subject helps you though the editing process to keep you focused on creating a paper that is really high quality.

What are your professional plans or goals?

Right now, my plans are to go to graduate school and pursue a Master’s degree in Library Science and a Master’s degree in US history. I want to learn how to make information, especially historical information, more accessible to the public so that more people can engage with photographs, journals, newspapers, and other primary sources. I also want to study and write more about the late twentieth century in this country. I hope to be able to work in libraries and museums in the future to make history more readily available and relatable to the public and to be the person who can help guide people to the resources and materials that can help answer their questions about the past.