Two Photographers Give Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” a Modern Update
Photographers Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur re-created the iconic works so that they more accurately reflect the diversity of America today
Photographers Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur have teamed up on an ambitious project that aims to get voters to the polls next Tuesday: a modern-day adaptation of Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” series.
In an undertaking that involved two photo shoots and over 100 models, including actor and activist Rosario Dawson, the photographers created a staggering 82 reproductions of Rockwell’s works for political advocates to use in advance of the midterm elections.
The new photos would be almost exact replicas if not for one distinct update: While Rockwell’s paintings focused solely on the white middle class, these images are populated by figures of varying races, religions, cultures, and sexualities.
Rockwell’s original paintings were created in response to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address and illustrated the four essential human rights that FDR identified therein: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. As World War II raged on, Rockwell’s paintings illustrated the ideals that Americans were fighting to protect, becoming wildly popular when they were printed in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. The U.S. Department of Treasury even cocurated a traveling exhibition of the original paintings and printed four million posters emblazoned with the paintings as part of a war bond drive.
This year, @For_Freedoms transformed Norman Rockwell’s iconic Four Freedoms images to show what these four freedoms look like today. We’re voting / taking action / creating art #ForFreedoms of speech and worship, and #ForFreedoms from want and fear. Are you with us? pic.twitter.com/tq8mOao4pY
— ForFreedoms (@for_freedoms) October 24, 2018
“I hope that people feel that it’s an accurate representation of our everyday population now,” Shur told Time. “Even though I’m sure there’s someone we missed in there, I really feel 100 percent truthful when I say that we really have tried to get such a diverse group.”
Rather than hang the photos in a gallery, the creative team behind the photographs—which includes Thomas, Shur, and the artist-run super PAC For Freedoms (of which Thomas, along with Creative Capital artist Eric Gottesman, is a cofounder)—hopes to see the images spread across social media, prompting Americans to consider which values their vote can defend. A selection of the images will also be used in For Freedoms’ 50 State Initiative, a campaign to spur political discourse across the country with artist-designed billboards.