NO NO IN YESO

 

Yeso, New Mexico, 2010

 

Yeso is a small (7 people) ex railroad stop and repair yard on U.S. Highway 60 in east Central New Mexico.

It is all but abandoned.

It is silent and vast and ruined and worth stopping for, for the silence alone.

I did.

When I went to pack up my gear and head east to Portales, I found that my polarizing filter had disappeared. ¡Desesparado! After a half hour of searching for it I’d had enough and screamed in frustration. A block away, seven people came out of the one occupied house left in Yeso.

They constituted the entire population of the town.

Embarrassed, I realized that I was disturbing the peace.

I left, honored the silence, was humbled and slinked away (Polarizerless).

Noise, apparently, is a no-no in Yeso.

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METROPOLITAN IN EAST EL PASO

Metroloitan IN East El PasoMetropolitan in East El Paso, Texas, 2016

Photograph by ©Bruce Berman

 

1955 Nash* Metropolitan.

Ahead of its time

Austin Motor Company engine.

Body by Pininfarina.

The MSRP for Series III models (in 1955)  was $1,527 (Hardtop).

Ahead of its time.

 

*Nash became Nash-Hudson which became American Motor Company (Ramblers) which became AMC, which was acquired by Renault which sold it to Chrysler which became extinct in 1987.

 

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NOT DEPRESSED IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION

Farmers in town, Alabama, 1936

Dorothea Lange

Farmers in town, Alabama, 1936,

Library of Congress Photo

This is such an unusual Lange photo. The people look -if not prosperous- well dressed, not in transit, not in trouble, not oppressed by The Depression.

Also, the women are sitting. It also shows a lack of real interaction between the photographer and subject. Lange asked, it appears, if it was OK to take the photograph, they, reluctantly (I think) said yes, and her husband (I think), just off camera left, does not leave the scene, protectively.

More importantly, what was Lange doing?

It seems, by the young daughter’s reaction, that Lange was performing, squeezing out something from the scene, trying to get a response, trying for animation if not insight. Was she “clowning?” Maybe, a little bit. Was she saying, “You look great.” Perhaps. Sometimes a subject is “whole,” it needs nothing except for the photographer to not get in the way. Sometimes, the subject needs coaxing. Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. It appears that Lange was trying hard to evoke empathy. All three members of this family appear to have a different reaction: The father acts as a guardian, the daughter tries to please. The mother endures, a kind of buffer between the father’s wariness and the daughter’s pleased-to-be-acknowledged winsomeness.

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THE ROAD TO TEXAS

The Road To TexasEast El Paso, 2016

The road to Texas/East El Paso, September 2016

Just east of El Paso,on the edge of town, about 20 miles from downtown, not far from the Rio Grande river that separates the United States from Mexico, there’s only two roads out of town. One is Interstate 10 and the other is the old main highway, U.S. 80, a road that was the main southern link between San Augustine, Florida and San Diego, California.

Just outside of El Paso, the two great roads divide, I10 shooting straight east, like an arrow. U.S. 80 turns south and follows the river until it turn east at Esparanza and then wiggles on, ambling through Texas, heading to the bayous of Louisiana.

The road, now part of El Paso’s east side thins out, about 30 miles from El Paso’s central downtown, then dwindles into Fabens, a farm town, the last town of West Texas.

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BODY LANGUAGE

BRUSH HOGS

Mydans’ Caption:

“Migrant workers like this man whom I

found living with his family by the side of the road

near Raymondsville, Texas, in 1937, were called

bush-hogs.” Photo by Carl Mydans

Narrative by Bruce Berman

Almost always, when photo researchers and academic scholars refer to a Dorothea Lange photograph with people, they mention the “body language” that Lange so brilliantly captured. Usually they mention that Lange had Polio when she was a child and attribute this occurrence to her ability to “read” her subject’s body language.

This is puzzling to most aficianados of good photography, especially photographers themselves.

What good  photo reportage doesn’t recognize their subject’s “body language?”

Further, as any photographer knows, most if not all photographers who work in the world of photographing strangers, use their own body language as a sort of introduction card. How else do you “break the ice?”

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DANCING IN PLACE

MIGRANT PICKER

Waiting for Work: “Ex-tenant farmer from Texas,

came to work in the fruit and vegetable harvests.”

Coachella Valley, California,

by Dorothea Lange, 1937

Dorothea Lange, as always, was interested in more than the facts of a situation. She wanted intimacy with “the other.” This man, obviously wary, is relaxed enough to put up his foot, a sure sign of trust. The captioning of the photo -hers- speaks volumes. He had had a station in life, even though it was rented. Now he only had his truck, his labor, his -and his family (background in the shadows)- and his footlocker full belongings.

It appears, as well, he still had his dignity.

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RUSSELL LEE: A “PRETTY” MOMENT

RussellLee41

April 1942. “Hollywood, California. Girl on the street.”

Photo by Russell Lee for the Office of War Information (OWI)

What do we know about this photo?

He used a Rollieflex camera (the square negative).

It was downtown L.A.

We know the Admiral theater was still A theater showing first run movies (Casablanca?).

It was a warm day (jacket in hand).

She’d already been traveling (tag on the suitcase).

Lee was doing the original “street photography (no interaction).”

They -he and her- were standing at 1645 Vine Street (http://bit.ly/2aO5FYf).

The Depression was not over but for OWI photographers it was out-of-sight. The new theme was America The Healthy.

Lee appreciated the “pretty” as well as the depraved (and that was consistent. His Depression-era photos all hint at the positive).

Still photography “sticks,” freezes moments in time, forever, and perusing them is better than fine wine: the “taste” can last forever.

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JOHN VACHON AND MARILYN

 Marilyn and John Vachon, 1953
Marilyn photographed by John Vachon during location shooting for River Of No Return in August 1953
Text by Bruce Berman, Editor

In 1936 John Vachon was a “late” FSA photographer. His original job was to catalog other photographer’s images. He was, at 21,  a “filing clerk,” for the FSA library and had little intention of being a photographer. He needed a job.

By 1937, Vachon had become completely familiar with the FSA, its Director, Roy Stryker and the works of the of the FSA photographers.

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Jack Delano and the Greene County Jail Dance

Greene County Jail, Jack Delano, 1941Georgia, June 1941. Photo by Jack Delano.

Jack Delano, was one  of the group of photographers who fanned out throughout the United States in the 1930’s and 40’s on behalf of the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration (FSA).

Delano was not as well known as the other F.S.A. photographers, who included Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee. Mr. Delano created images of people and places of surpassing elegance and empathy. Certain of his beautifully detailed, crisp black-and-white prints show the Evans influence, but his work also had the verve and deep insight of Lange and the technical curiosity and skill of Lee.

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1962 CHEVY TRUCK FOR SALE

Elida, New Mexico, 2015 ©Bruce Berman
Elida, New Mexico, 2015 ©Bruce Berman

Text and photograph by Bruce Berman

 

A lot of America is gone.

It was laying around for years, decades, a century.

Cars, appliances, farm implements, things.

In the Depression era it was laying there, left over from the “teens.” In the 60s it was laying around from the 30s.

There is less and less laying around “out there” now.

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RUSSELL LEE AND MINORITY AMERICA IN THE 1930s

Negroes waiting at streetcar terminal for cars, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939, FSA
Negroes waiting at streetcar terminal for cars, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939, FSA

 

Text by Bruce Berman

When Russell Lee and the other FSA photographers set off into America in the 1930s their social concern wasn’t hidden and, in fact, Roy Stryker, the Director and Editor of the of the Resettlement Administration’s (RA) Historical branch, encouraged his shooters to  find various minority groups and show their life style and their condition in our society. He wanted “full disclosure,” for the good and the bad but he he wanted these groups to be shown as part of the “American family.” Although the FSA’s mission was to show rural conditions in the environmentally and economically challenged Depression era, he was aware of what the impact of these photos would be. In effect, the FSA was part of the ongoing and increasing movement for justice and Civil Rights. How these groups were visually described and labeled, in an era before the confusion of politicaly correct labeling had become an issue, might not have been how these groups labeled themselves.

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Russell Lee: The Depression to Modernity

Sunday morning on the south side of Chicago by Russell Lee, 1941
Sunday morning on the south side of Chicago by Russell Lee, 1941

Text by Bruce Berman

By the 1940s, Russell Lee, Roy Stryker and the remaining elements of the FSA (Farm Security Administration) had begun to move onto the next great era of America: World War. The Depression was beginning to wane, the result of an uptick in industrial production gearing for war.

For Lee and company that meant a slight shift in message and a growing modernness of style, more mobile because of the use of smaller cameras and the sheer volume of serious photography being done in the “internet of its era,” the new “picture magazine” of Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Collier’s, etc.

The last stages of FSA saw the focus and imagery of the FSA turn from exposing the depth of wretchedness to reform and reclamation during the Depression to a message of growing prosperity and recovery, a message that supported the idea that America “was back!”

If you are shooting for the Government there is a reason you are on the payroll. Your “boss” wants you to support a message. The message can be benign or insidious but make no mistake, you will deliver the “message” or you will be freelancing.

No image better personifies this message than Lee’s 1941 image of five African-American boys, outfitted in their finest, posing proudly for Lee’s Rollieflex (the irony of the “Rollie” being a German camera made in Lower Saxony was probably not lost on photographers of the war). In fact, the Rollie and the Leica were the two new technological “stars” coming into use during the war, both using roll film, faster to operate than previous cameras, especially because the speeds of film had also inceased to a whopping ASA of 125. Both were German manufactured. However, the main work horse for most press photographers -especially the military Signal Corps shooters- was the Speed Graphic, big (it took a 4″ X 5″ sheet of film, one sheet at a time), cumbersome and slow to use, but American made.

The Rolleiflex TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera
The Rolleiflex TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera

Even while we fought the war the era of imports (specifically from Germany and Japan) had begun. The full deluge couldn’t and didn’t happen until the war was over and the conquered Axis countries were occupied and their manufacturing bases had begun to produce again, this time, fully modernized and aimed at export to, mainly -insert irony- the United States.

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LANGE’S SHORT STORY CAPTIONS

From Texas tenant farmer to California fruit tramp. Marysville, Calif. His story: 1927 made 7,000 dollars in cotton. 1928 broke even. 1929 went in the hole. 1930 went in still deeper. 1931 lost everything. 1932 hit the road. by Dorothea Lange, 1936. Another photo of this family is below
From Texas tenant farmer to California fruit tramp. Marysville, Calif. His story: 1927 made 7,000 dollars in cotton. 1928 broke even. 1929 went in the hole. 1930 went in still deeper. 1931 lost everything. 1932 hit the road. Photograph by Dorothea Lange. 1936

Text by Bruce Berman

Dorothea Lange not only photographed the people who were suffering the disaster of the Depression, she got to know them.

Her captions, written and sent to Roy Stryker at the FSA (either with her undeveloped film -which was rare- or with her developed film (she was the only FSA shooter allowed to do so) often were mini Short Stories.

In the photograph above, for example, in 39 words Lange hits four of the five “5Ws and the H” that are the staple of good journalistic writing. The “How” is obvious: California by car.

Lange’s intimacy was a keystone of her work. The relaxed body language of the migrant father, the careful posing of six people (never easy and especially so with young children), the near “offering” of the baby to the photographer, a metaphorical gesture that Lange was undoubtedly aware of, all indicate a more than momentary photo shoot. She was engaged and she, like any good photographer, was dropping the barrier between subjects and “official person.” Her work indicated familiarity and, to a degree, intimacy.

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LEE AND THE LONG ROAD AHEAD

Ruuning From The Roadrunner
Running From The Roadrunner, Interstate 10, Las Cruces, New Mexico by Bruce Berman

Text by Bruce Berman

This giant roadrunner is on Interstate 10, west of Las Cruces, New Mexico. In Russell Lee’s day this was highway U.S. 70/80. Lee traveled in a 1930’s Ford, often with his wife Jean. A photographer on assignment today can leave, for example, Houston, in the morning, fly to El Paso, rent a car, drive out toe area where this spot is, photograph his job, transmit it from his laptop and Mobile Hot Spot, stop for, say some great enchiladas in Las Cruces on the reverse trip, get on the plane and be in Houston by mid evening.

For Lee, getting to this spot, between Deming and and Las Cruces, leaving from, say, his last stop, (perhaps, El Paso, fifty miles away) would take a full day. Top speed limits in the 1930s were 45 to 50 mph . Speed limit signs, in the U.S. were not legally required until the mid 1920s.

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Getting Plugged Out: Snap Snap

Funklands_Vinton
Dinosaurs, I 10 at Vinton, Texas, 2012, by ©Bruce Berman

 

There weren’t any Interstate Highways when FSA and Russell Lee worked America in the 1930s. The “Eisenhower Highway” as the Interstates were called, made travel fast and removed from the towns it bypassed, the very places where the FSA  shooters did their best work.

Would they have plyed these highways like they plyed the two lane (and three lane) roads of their time?

Unlikely.

They would have flown to a “hub,” rented a car for $75/day, stayed at a $65-100/night motel and used up their $50/day per diem as they worked to show the outstanding results of the government programs that have now bloated into a national way of life and debt.

Seriously, would Lee and Lange, Walker, Rothstein, and Delano have been able to do the work they did in jet set mode?

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Ranch Full Of Cadillacs: Miss You Bad

Cadilac Ranch, Interstate 40, Amarillo, Texas

©2012 Bruce Berman

Post by Bruce Berman

Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas. It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm. Cadillac Ranch is currently located along Interstate 40 and is clearly visible to all cross country visitors. It was originally located in a wheat field, but in 1997 the installation was quietly moved by a local contractor two miles (three kilometers)  to a cow pasture on the edge of the town of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle.

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Two Americas: Big Gulp Nation v. Cappachino City

Friends on Main Street, Anson, Texas

©2012 Bruce Berman

Editorial Comment

by Bruce Berman, RLR Editor

Here’s the weird thing: there really are (at least) two Americas out there (the phrase came from someone who isn’t either and will, hopefully just fade away). And this has been going on for a long time.

What was the reason the W.P.A. created the Farm Security Admibnistration which created the “Historical Section,” that employed Lee, Lange, Evans, Rothstein, Parks,  and the whole rest of the FSA shooters?

“To explain to the cities the need for the New Deal programs in rural America,” as Nancy Woods in In This Proud Land says.

And here we have 2012. It’s not exactly the same mix of “rural v. urban,” but it is some kind of mix between the equitied and the struggling and the struggling are out there, and they think they are living the right way and the other America, the one now represented by Hope and Change thinks the other half are a bunch of rubes, or, as one famous non rube said, “They’re clinging to their guns and religion.”

Well yeah and always will.

The question is, Lost American, what are you clinging to?

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One Filter But No Water


No more water in Yeso, New Mexico, U.S. 60 – May 2012

©Bruce Berman

On Highway 60 between Ft. Sumner and Vaughn, semi-ghost.Still has a working post office.

Excerpt from the Lee Diary

by Bruce Berman

Yeso is on highway U.S. 60 between Vaughn and Fort Sumner. It is now almost a Ghost Town.

Yeso. The word means “gypsum” in Spanish. The Sante Fe railroad established this town and after 1906 it became a trading center for ranchers and farmers. The town has less than ten residents. I lost (misplaced?) my lens filter in Yeso. I searched for it in the tall grass for over an hour. When I finally found it I screamed a happy and loud “Yahoo!” Several people came out onto the porch of the only building in Yeso that seemed to have people.

Maybe they all came out of the house to see what the ruckus was about.

It’s not every day that one can bring an entire town out into the streets.

I snatched up my filter, got in the car, got going again, looked back waved at the still shocked people on the porch.

They waved back.

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The Road Russell Lee Did Not Travel

Socorro New Mexico Wild Man, August 2011-photograph by Bruce Berman

Then there is another road on Russell Lee’s Road. It is the road not often described, the road that is deeply there and I suspect always was. It is the road less traveled and it is the underbelly of, not only New Mexico, but America today. Looking at the road of Lee and the other FSA photographers of the 1930s, one would imagine that the grind of the never-ending depression was something that people were waiting out, that the “hard times,” were something that  was being endured until better times arrived.

But, after awhile, hard times dig down deep into the soul of a country and leave scars and damage and incapacity.

The role of the FSA was to uplift. The images and words of the FSA were meant to show that the government had come to the rescue and that, given enough time and money, the government would fix things, was fixing things.

But, as previously stated in on this web site, for all the millions of dollars spent in the 1930s on programs to uplift the society from the Great Depression, unemployment never went down significantly.  Like now. It hovered around 20% throughout the 1930s (this statistic included those still looking for work but unable to find it. Today, those who are looking but do not find work are not included or tabulated. They don’t exist according to the Dept. of Labor).

Our times have seen boom and bust and boom again and bust again. But another form of depression has been gaining steam: the loss of mission and the loss of belief. Throughout the history of the country we have lived the conceit that we were one –The One, so to speak- and that we were special and that we were the best of nations and people.

Some of us still believe this to be the case but many don’t. Can’t.

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