“It wasn’t the corpse that bewildered me as much as the canine-thin faces of the pack, lingering in the woods, circling after the kill.” 
~James Allen, collector of lynching postcards and photographs
Lynching is an extremely tough subject to discuss. Looking through the online exhibitions Without Sanctuary and Erased Lynching this week made me think about my hometown in South Carolina and what could have happened there in the Jim Crow era. After examining the online exhibitions I wondered, what audiences are exhibits about lynching meant to reach? What do we as viewers gain from seeing images of victims from heinous acts of racial violence?
Perhaps it is the image of the crowd gleefully witnessing the horrors of lynching that should startle modern audiences and cause us to reflect on how the crowd allowed these acts of racial violence to happen. Not every person witnessing the lynching participated in killing the victim but they perpetuate racial violence by participating in the spectacle of the event. Seeing the crowd of white faces viewing acts of lynching leads me to question why no one in the audience challenged these acts. Furthermore, these images make me wonder what acts of racism I see today that I watch as a bystander without question. Ken Gonzales-Day and James Allen depict the audiences viewing lynchings in differing ways in their online exhibitions and confront modern audiences with the question of how we contribute to racial violence and racism today.
Without Sanctuary is a large collection of lynching postcards and photographs James Allen collected over the years. The crowds surrounding the hanging bodies suggest the general acceptance of the event by the white population. An image depicting the lynching of nineteen-year-old Elias Clayton, nineteen-year-old Elmer Jackson, and twenty-year-old Isaac McGhie in Duluth, Minnesota shows three shirtless African American males hanging from a pole while a crowd of white faces turn toward the camera and look, almost as though the photographer called the attention of the audience. These images immortalize the anguish of lynching and make us wonder why anyone would want to witness such an event or carry a piece of paper commemorating it. Seeing the crowd watching the lynching at times can be as uncomfortable as seeing the victims. As James Allen says in his commentary, “In time, I realize that my fear of the other is fear of myself.”  This statement suggests that as a white man he sees himself in the white witnesses and goes on to say the photos “become the portraits of my own family and of myself.”  Being confronted with the totality of the scene, the bodies and the witnesses, causes the audience to think of how they see themselves in the image. For a white audience this is a discomfort that should be confronted in order to better understand why racial tension is still an issue today.
Ken Gonzales-Day presents a different approach with similar images in Erased Lynching. Rather than focusing on the victims depicted in lynching postcards, he removes them so that the focus is on the landscape and onlookers. This approach draws attention to the ordinary in the photograph –to the landscape that perhaps remains unchanged today, to the people who committed the crime, and to the photography itself. The image of East First Street in St. James Park shows a tree with a white audience dressed nicely in hats and suits. A few spectators turn toward the camera and look at it straight on
while a man and woman walk by. Without the body, the scene seems almost innocent, as though the crowd is congregating to listen to a speaker. This suggests the acceptance of the event by these onlookers. Recognizing this culture of acceptance surrounding racial violence is discomforting. Gonzales-Day wants us to reconsider the history of lynching in America and racism today.  Gonzales-Day’s approach may make modern audiences think of what racist events happen that we observe or take part in without question. The absence of the victim also helps us to reconsider the numerous groups who have experienced acts of racial violence. Gonzales-Day writes that he wants to draw attention to the races of victims who were lynched in the West –Latinos and Asians in addition to African Americans. Expanding our definition of victims who experienced acts of racial violence in the past allows us to see those who suffer from racism today.Without the victim in the photograph, a white audience must turn their attention to the fact that, like James Allen suggests, we see ourselves.
 James Allen, “Without Sanctuary,” http://withoutsanctuary.org/main.html.
 Ken Gonzales-Day, “Erased Lynching,” http://www.kengonzalesday.com/projects/erasedlynching/index.htm.