Your commentary should address how the images were affected by the technological and practical constraints faced by photographers at the time. It should also discuss how the context in which the photographs were taken, i.e. the Mexican Revolution, affect their meaning.
We are able to derive meaning from this photograph of ‘Soldados Zapatistas’ – Zapatista Soldiers when it is combined with its contexts by looking at certain aspects of the photograph and also taking into consideration the photographer, his background and life experiences, and the context of the cultural background that is concerned with the cultural object. The photographer, Agustín Víctor Casasola, was born in Mexico’s capital, Mexico City, in 1874. He is known to be one of the most active photojournalists during the Mexican Revolution, taking his camera with him wherever he went, especially after he founded the Mexican Association of Press Photographers with his brother. 1
Here he photographs Zapatista soldiers around a train during the Mexican Revolution. Trains were important during the revolution because it was a way of developing the country’s economy due to the fact that train travel was fast and efficient. They were able to use trains to transport goods and materials that would help to build up the infrastructure of Mexico. It was known that Porfirio Diaz, the Mexican President at the time, also used the trains as a form of weaponry. His army would pack trains with explosives and send them off towards enemies to destroy their trains2. The fact that the soldiers are standing around the train, with others sitting on top of the train’s cowcatcher shows that the soldiers are aware that they are working in partnership with the railways, and they seem proud of this too.
The context of this photograph affects the meaning of it due to the fact that it was taken during the Mexican Revolution. Looking at the semiotics of this photograph can help us to deduce it’s meaning. The photograph is black and white, with the focus on the soldiers surrounding the train. Once we have seen the soldiers sitting on the cowcatcher, our eyes are led up to those standing up, which then leads us to look at the headlamp on the front of the train which appears to be on. We are also able to see a faint billow of smoke coming from the chimney of the train. From the light and the smoke we could derive that the train is ready to depart, and is going somewhere which may have been important to the soldiers, as we do have to ask why they soldiers were photographed with this particular train. The soldiers are posing with the train; it is not a natural scene, which does make us question the significance of this train. Given these facts, it is possible that the meaning of the photograph could be centred around pride, but also may be centred around respect, respect for fellow soldiers, and respect for the tools and weapons which the soldiers have at their disposal. The soldiers most likely had a solid understanding of the importance of the railways at the time. They were an economic resource as they enabled goods to be moved around, which meant that trade was able to happen. Trains were also responsible for bringing weapons and resources to the soldiers, so this was important to them on a more personal level, meaning that they would have taken more care and understood the importance of the trains. The light on the train may signify a kind of hope, as the age-old saying goes – ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’, and by 1918 the civil war was slowly beginning to come to an end. But also, since the light is shining forward, it could represent the nation of Mexico moving forward together, with an added sense of change to ensure that Mexico does not have a civil war again.
At the time that this photograph was taken, photographers were using equipment that is very different to the equipment that