At first glance one may look at this photograph and think this is just a young lady jumping through the streets of some city. However, with a bit of research the historical context and situation in which the photographer took this image makes the photograph’s story more perplexing. This photograph was taken by the well-known, Jewish photographer Martin Munkacsi in New York City. Munkacsi was born in Hungary in 1896 and worked in Germany before coming to New York in the 1930s. There he continued working as a photographer before dying in 1963 (Gundlach). The reason this information feels so important to me is that this information proves that when this picture was taken (1934) Munkacsi had lived through World War I, had lived in Europe where he probably experienced antisemitism, and was currently living during the Great Depression. This was a difficult time period for many people, especially for Jews with the increasing antisemitism around the world. With this background knowledge now at hand the picture portrays itself in a different light. Why would someone be portrayed as jumping and looking so jovial during a time of so much pain and struggle?
For me it is not just the woman’s facial expression and leap that make her joyfulness and positivity evident. Other aspects of the photograph, perhaps intended by Munkacsi, also help make her emotions apparent, largely by their contrast to the rainy background. The women is dressed well and carries many accessories, which most likely signify she is of the middle or upper class. These semiotic clues into her class distinction perhaps make a viewer of the image believe this woman is not in as much financial distress as others during the time period. Secondly, the woman’s image is in focus while the city behind her is blurry. This focus works to make the woman stand out and the sharpness of the woman also adds to the effect that she seems cheerful and upbeat. On the contrary the blurriness behind her makes it clear that the city and the weather should evoke feelings of sadness. Furthermore, the woman’s image is fairly dark while the scene behind her is relatively washed out with light. While dark typically represents negative feelings and white more positive feelings, in this case I believe the darker nature of her image helps bring the women into focus and adds to how clear her image appears. As mentioned, it is this clarity of the woman that makes her positive energy more striking and apparent. Lastly, because the client seems to be jumping with ease and her smile seems natural, she is probably fairly comfortable with the photographer and seems genuinely cheerful. These social clues help to further convey the woman’s mood.
By looking at this picture it is very easy to argue that the woman appears happy even though she is surrounded by a gloomy, rained-on city. Thus, I believe that Munkacsi intended for this picture to convey a deeper, symbolic meaning through this contrast. After having lived during World War I and a increasingly hostile Europe for Jews, and now living during the Great Depression Munkacsi must have been very aware of the fact that the world around him, especially for his fellow Jews, was full of hardships and agony. Perhaps in his mind the gloomy city the woman is a part of symbolized all of the difficult aspects of life people were dealing with in the 1930s and prior. Thus he produced this image of a smiling, jumping woman in a rainstorm. To people who view the photograph the woman may symbolize hope for better times to come and the potential to find happiness even with all of the terrible things around oneself. This was probably especially true for those who viewed the image in the 1930s and could easily connect to the grief of the background, but perhaps anyone in any time period can learn from this picture to keep trying to jump and smile even when it is raining.
Munkacsi, Martin. The Puddle Jumper. 1934. Photograph. Le Clown Lyrique. Word Press, 5 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 Sept. 2013. <http://leclownlyrique.wordpress.com/2010/02/05/martin-munkacsi/>.
Gundlach, F. C., comp. International Center of Photography. Proc. of Martin Munkacsi: Think While You Shoot, International Center of Photography, Hamburg, Germany. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2013. <http://emuseum.icp.org/view/people/asitem/id/1822>.
A very thoughtful discussion of this photograph that pays attention to the historical context as well as aspects of Munkacsi’s own background. The details that you observe regarding the photo, its play of dark and light, in focus versus out of focus, are excellent as are your comments about how the woman in dressed and what her clothes signify regrading class position. While it may be a leap (pun intended) from this level of analysis to your speculation about the photo’s symbolic meaning, I’m glad that you tried to enter that type of discussion. Good additional resources cited.