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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MARION POST WOLCOTT: DEPTH AND CONCERN

 

PHOTO BY: Marion Post Wolcott Vegetable workers migrants waiting after work to be paid Near Homestead Florida 1939, FSA

Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott.

Vegetable workers-migrants, waiting to be paid

near Homestead Florida 1939 (photograph/LOC)

Marion Post Wolcott was one of the later Farm Security Farm Security Administration ( FSA) photographers and went on to be one of the Office of War Information photographers (OWI) under the direction of her former boss, at FSA, Roy Stryker. She was unique among FSA photographers, showing the extremes of the country’s rich and poor in the late 30’s, and addressed the issues of race relations with intensity and depth.

Wolcott’s creativity and her unfailing perseverance resulted in powerful documentary images: farmers harvesting the tobacco fields in Lexington, KY; affluent spectators at the races in Florida; coal miners and their families throughout West Virginia and farm laborers in North Carolina and Mississippi.

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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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Lee, Hispanics/Latinos and Contemporary Documentary Concerns

1939, Russell Lee: Mexican woman and children looking over side of truck, Neches, Texas

Article by Bruce Berman

Latino, Hispanic, Mexican-American, Spanish, all were terms used in the 1930 and 1940’s when referring to Spanish-speaking people, particularly those who lived in the former Mexican States of Neew Mexico and Texas. When Russell Lee began photographing in this community the term Hispanic or Mexican-American was most commonly used. Now,  these terms are all used, more or less interchangeably, and refer to the predominantly Spanish-speaking peoples of the border states that had been part of Mexico until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Guadalupe_Hidalgo) tore the states away from Mexico in 1848.

Russell Lee, as a photographer and as a person was interested in the “Hispanic,” community. In it, many historians of his work have concluded, Lee found the verve he so treasured in his “subjects,” and he found a story that he, socially concerned photographer that he was, related to and wanted to tell. The story of the “Hispanics,” of the old Mexican states was one he felt had been seriously under reported. With the encouragement, first of Roy Stryker at the FSA, and then, later, from George I. Sanchez (http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2384/Sanchez-George-I-1906-1972.html) at the University of Texas at Austin, Lee told this story, starting in the late 1930’s, in his photographs and writings, for the rest of  his life.

In his travels in Texas and New Mexico, Lee was aware of the history of this community and the relationship they had, historically, to the  former Spanish Crown lands. After the Mexican-American War of 1848, many of the people of the Republic of Mexico found themselves under a new government, The United States. However, in what is now known as the “Southwest,” the Spanish-speaking community managed to keep the core of their community together and the language, customs and culture of the oldest residents of these former Mexican States stayed remarkably intact and remains so to this day.

1948, Spanish American Music Group by Russell Lee/Library of Congress
2005, Cantina bass player, Juarez, by Bruce Berman

In his writings and in conversations, Lee expressed admiration for this community.

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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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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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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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Eastern New Mexico

The Wool Bowl, Roswell, New Mexico, July 2013

Russell Lee went through Roswell, New Mexico, in the 1930s often.

I have gone through Roswell often since the early 1980s.

It is a city of 50,000 people and is a flatland, part of the Great Plains, just out of the Sacramento Mountains. If you’re coming to Roswell from the west, the mountains, you get the feeling you’re starting to head into America’s Heartland, the flat places, the farmlands.

If you’re coming from the east, from Texas or Oklahoma, one gets the feeling you’re starting to head to the wild lands of the west. The spaces get wider, the horizon is farther off, the arithmetic of the geography becomes basic. You look west and you see a wide and high mountain range. In the winter the Capitain Mountain’s top is covered in snow. Beyond there is the endless mountains of New Mexico and Arizona, Utah and California. Roswell is the thinning of the land, eventually leading to the great deserts beyond, or the ending of the youthful upheaval of the wild west, heading to the old lands of the east.

This little town, lying on the cusp between old and new, Roswell is, therefore, sort of a Border Town, a place between eco systems and cultures. 

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Defining Memorial Day

RLR_LaUnionNM32 LoRes
Mr. Saenz, Korean War Veteran in La Union, New Mexico, 2010

Hero is a word easily tossed around.

Having the fortitude to go to war for one’s country is, certainly, one of the  basic pillars one can use to define courage, loyalty, sacrifice, and, perhaps, hero.

Memorial Day is only 1/365th of the days we can remember the gift that our veterans have give to us. But, if it’s only that, well, so be it.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

It takes courage -and faith- to risk life itself for an idea,  a commitment.

Country? G*d? A way of life?

Every one of these “guys” have told me, “You just do it. You don’t question it.”

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Rooster Man

Man holds “The Old Man,”  Chapparal  New Mexico

Bruce Berman©2012

Editor’s note: Name withheld to protect the subject.

Ex-cockfighter holds “The Old Man,” his name for his 11 year old fighting cock. He is standing in the yard of his home in Chapparal, New Mexico where he raises and maintains fighting cocks. Cockfighting in New Mexico was outlawed on July 15,2007 .

This man has been raising and competing with his fighting cocks since he was 12 years old. The Old Man is a ten time winner in cockfighting competitions.

The cockfighting man no longer participates or competes. He continues to raise his birds “for the love of them.”

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Branded Courthouse

Eddy County New Mexico Courthouse, June 2012,

photograph by ©Bruce Berman

Construction on the the Eddy County, New Mexico Courthouse was begun in 1891. Up to $30,000 was allotted for its construction. The brands of cattle ranches from the region were etched around the west doors in 1940 and have been maintained there since.

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Road Relic #91

Road Relic #91, Gadsen, New Mexico,

29 June 2012©Bruce Berman

This is not a pickup from Russell Lee’s FSA era. It’s a ’51-’54  “Jimmy.”

Lee was still shooting. He had completed his work on the The Study Of The Spanish Speaking People Of Texas and had settled into his life in Austin, teaching at the Art Department at UT.

He still was shooting and traveling the highways on assignment.

This truck and the two lane highway along it is of the era when there weren’t Interstate Highways (1955), massive franchises, massive government and plastic culture. Not long after this came “cool.” America wasn’t cool before the mid fifties. All the way back, through the Depression, back to the teens, America was agrarian, quieter, smellier, simpler. And tougher.

Lee -and the FSA-ers- not only documented the Depression in the 30s and its affect on agriculture, but he and they photographed the end of a major era, the second era of the automobile (the first being horseless carriage and horse trails). America was about to enter the third era (the Interstate, the jet, wide spread fashion, work at desks).

Relic #91 is one more gravestone along the highway of the second era.

Am I “waxing” nostalgic?

Of course. This whole project has waxed nostalgic!

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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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Pistoleros and Photographers Hit The Road

Second Amendment Kid with plastic rifle, Magdalena, NM by Bruce Berman ©2011
Clyde Barrow with two Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR), a shotgun, and lots of attitude, photographer unknown (probably Bonnie)
In 1930’s America, as in 2011 America, violence was a public problem. As the depression deepened, the crime rate rose. The main increase in crime came in the category of armed robbery. The big news in crime, in the 1930’s was in the cities in the aftermath of Prohibition, gangs were consolidating and becoming crime families. In the small towns of Depression era America, however, there was economic lawlessness and desperate people did desperate things.
No one more personified this than Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker who became legendary for their bank-robbing exploits (actually they preferred grocery stores and gas stations but, perhaps, then as now, banks seemed to be, in the public’s mind, better targets). Many of their exploits overlapped the territory where the FSA photographers worked: the rural heartland of the country. The couple were Texans through and through (Big City Texan in the case of Bonnie. She was from Dallas). Barrow and Parker centered their activities around the Lone Star State and Oklahoma but later branched out to the Midwest.
They were, whether by self invention or as newspaper-selling darlings, Gansta before there were Ganstas.
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New Mexico Bull’s-Eye

1937 Dodge Sedan, Southern New Mexico

RLR Project ©2011

Article and photograph by Bruce Berman

Garfield, NM —–

It’s going going almost gone. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. Paint to rust.

The thing about the West, still, is there’s still lots of space, in the land and in the brain. Enough space to not become everything we left behind, a continent or a government (or two) ago. Earth migrants we are, one step ahead of a rabid reality. We have artifacts and clues that this history of ours is circular and not linear. Things like this Dodge remind us that there was another time of economic freak out. Another time of political terrorism. Another time of slogging onward, toward the light (which turned out to arrive at four or five years of the dark: WW II). Funny how the “dark,” also had a lot of light in it. What a battered generation the people from 1930s were: Depression, World War, the Cold War. Yet, they created the “modern era” we have lived in and off of for these seventy some years.

We pine for them and, in some cases -mine- then. But, they are just rust now. “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it,” said George Santayana. What if you want to repeat it, I ask myself, in my endless mucking around in the dust and rust.

Maybe this car has to fade away so we can move onward. Maybe there has to be no trace of the past to have a truly new future. Or maybe, it’s these artifacts of time that keeps us straight.

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Main Street New Mexico

Main Street, Elida, New Mexico – July 2011

RLR Project©2011

Article and photograph by Bruce Berman

The middle-of-nowhere can sometimes be somewhere.

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers spent a lot of time on the road. They -like the increasingly migrant population of the country- spent a lot of time between places. I, like them, spend a lot of times between places. It’s there that I -and the FSA shooters, apparently- find clarity, quiet, time and silence.

But…

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Roadside Attraction In Elida

Roadside attraction in Elida, New Mexico

by Bruce Berman©2011

Elida NM —

In the middle of nowhere, order.

Elida, New Mexico has a population of 183 people, one convenience store, a looks-to-be thirty five thousand dollar police cruiser with radar that fills up the passenger seat (I peeked), some old natural gas tanks. The town can be missed when you’re driving through unless you have a flat, need gas or relief or that police car gets you. It looks like most of the town’s revenue comes from that police car.

But, I am obsessing about the police car.

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The America Of Now: The RLR Roadshow Revs Up

Julio, Leandra and friends, Portales, July 2010

by Bruce Berman©

El Paso —     The engine is being tuned. The lenses are being cleaned. The cob webs of the cabeza (gathered in academe) are being swept away.The Russell Lee’s Road roadshow is getting ready to roll again.

This time, the project will be following the 1949 work of Russell Lee produced for The Study Of The Spanish Speaking People Of Texas.

Nearly half the population of New Mexico is “Hispanic.”  To be exact according to the 2010 census, 46.3% claim Hispanic heritage. The definition of that word varies and in New Mexico people who speak Spanish come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and traditions.

According to the United States Census for 2010 (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/35000.html) there were 873,171 (46.3%) Hispanics or Latino (of any race) in New Mexico. The discussion of who is “hispanic,” versus who is Mexican, in New Mexico and nationally is complicated and nuanced. In New Mexico there are 18% of the State’s population claiming Spanish heritage while 16% claim Mexican. The political and social overtones of that self-claiming defintion is a discussion that this site will explore in further detail as this summer of 2011 project progresses. Keeping in the tradition of the FSA, this site is acutely more interested in Class and Culture than it is in Race.

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The Radio On U.S. 60

The VLA, U.S. 60, New Mexico

by Bruce Berman ©2011

Russell Lee drove up and down U.S. 60 frequently, going back to Pie Town toward the western end of the state and then back out, heading east, down off the high plains into the Rio Grande trough to the town of Socorro, and beyond. The Very Large Array (VLA) is a radio astronomy observatory. In Russell Lee’s day radio was not new but it was a phenomenon of communication and was rapidly rivaling newspapers for its powers of influence and information distribution. In fact, much of the FSA’s work was meant to be used for this very purpose.  

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Milk The Cow!

Dairyman from Chihuahua, Portales, NM. 07/2010 by Bruce Berman/NMSU
Farmer's wife with cow, 1938 by Russell Lee/FSA

PORTALES, NM — Cows!

One of the things that amazes me, every time I start to work with this, is how time seems to disappear when I see what images   I have found, on the project and what Lee found 70 years before and when I go to searching for an image that might have something to do with one of mine -voila!- there it is! So far, it’s always been there. What this means…I’m still pondering. It seems there is a  world still out there that has changed little. Is that possible? I find that Lee and I may have had similar sensibilities (I don’t think he was doing a gig in Pie Town. I think he was hiding out). Is that it?  I spent a year looking for Lee. In July, after a long haul through a bone dry desert I found Lee in Yeso, NM. I will tell that story in the coming days, but for now I am thinking that he -and now, I-  spend too much time in cities and that when when we get out into the “field,” we are attracted to, or reactive to, the same things? 

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Rural Preachers

"Negroes and Whites Listening to Stanley Clarke," by Russell Lee, 1936
The reverend Lesley Tibbs conducts Cowboy Church, Portales, NM, by Bruce Berman, July 18, 2010

The Reverend Lesley Tibbs conducting a 9am church service in his “Cowboy Church,” at the City Fairgrounds in Portales, NM. The  service was a prelude to a Barrel Racing event that was a part of the 100th Heritage Days. When asked about the denomination of his church, the Reverend Tibbs replied, “I’m just a Christian doing Christian work.”

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America In An Armchair

Roy Stryker, Farm Security Administration                                                 Russell Lee’s camera

The Road to Yeso, July 2010 by Bruce Berman

Sage Flats in Catron County, N.M. Farm Security Administration, 1940; by Russell Lee

Article by Mary Lamonica

Russell Lee shot more photographs for the Farm Security Administration and stayed on the road longer for assignments than did any of the other photographers, including Arthur Rothstein and Dorothea Lange, both of whom were tremendously productive.

Roy Stryker, the FSA photographers’ supervisor, once said that he believed Russell Lee could stay on the road forever.  Lee, accompanied by his wife Jean from 1939 onward, seemed comfortable in an endless string of hotels. And, his letters to Stryker from the road reveal boundless curiosity about the nation and its citizens and empathy toward their living and working conditions during the years of the Great Depression.

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Different Eras: Lessons From The Rising Star Grant

June 2010, Roper girl texting, Portales, NM, by Bruce Berman

1936, Daughter of Drought stricken farmer, by Russell Lee/FSA

Commentary by Bruce Berman

Hard Times. That’s what they called the 1930’s.

We hear this word a lot now, too, to describe our times.

These two photos, above, might be a good description of what are the differences between now and then.

In the 1930’s the material wealth of people diminished greatly as the country fell into Depression. Eventually, there got to be, for many people, well, nothing.

In the 2010’s, it may be, we got to a point where, well,  we don’t have everything.

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Optimism: It’s a Viewpoint

September 1938. Girls at a carnival in New Mexico by Russell Lee for the FSA.

by Mary Lamonica

If you compare Russell Lee’s photographs to those of other FSA photographers, Lee’s images often evoke the idea that people might have been laid low by the depression, but they certainly had not given up.

In their thousands of miles of travel for the FSA, Russell and Jean Lee found pride, optimism, and courage among the people they photographed and interviewed during the Great Depression. Jean Lee recounted what she felt were Americans’ defining qualities during that difficult era to interviewer Richard K. Doud of the Smithsonian Institution in June 1964:

“It was a tremendous pride that they all had. We saw them along ditch banks and they didn’t have anything, They were living on the ditch banks, they were picking wild berries to eat, because there was nothing else. But it was very seldom that you found a person who really felt whipped. Somehow they were going to go on until this afternoon, at least. Now they didn’t know what was going to happen tomorrow, but until late this afternoon, somehow it would work out all right. There was tremendous pride and tremendous courage; we found it everywhere.”

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Russell Lee and the Cultures of New Mexico

Hispanic girl from Chamisal, NM 1940, by Russell Lee



by Mary Lamonica

Drive through New Mexico today and you’ll find a state awash with vibrant cultures. Hispanics, Native Americans, Anglos, African Americans, and Asian Americans all call New Mexico home. Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Russell Lee and his boss, Roy Stryker, the head of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) which employed Russell Lee and the other FSA shooters (including Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, John Vachon), knew many Americans were unfamiliar with Hispanics and Hispanic life. Racial laws supposedly providing “separate, but equal” facilities were anything but. Stryker and Lee were determined to do their part to change the situation by sending Lee on a lengthy documentary trip through the Southwest to showcase Hispanic life. New Mexico’s more than 221,000 Hispanics were the key draw.

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Playing Post Office

Bulletin Board in Post Office Showing a Large Collection of

“Wanted Men” Signs, Ames, Iowa, 1936, by Russell Lee

Little American Flags, cut up and turned sideways,

Post Office in Garfield, New Mexico,

May 2010, by Bruce Berman

Iola Alvarez, Postmistress of Garfield, NM

She holds a 1922 postal register, May 2010

by ©Bruce Berman

by Bruce Berman

It’s probably hard to believe it, but I never saw this image of Russell Lee’s until this morning. This keeps happening. It either means I’m an unoriginal wannabe, or that there is still a lot out there that is similar to what used to be out there, and it’s still good “Cannon Fodder,” for a photographer.

The Postmistress, Iola Alvarez, in Garfield, New Mexico, claims these mailboxes were first installed in 1919.

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Pie Town

Homesteader Bill Stagg with pinto beans, 1940, Pie Town, NM

Photograph by Russell Lee

by Mary Lamonica

Russell and Jean Lee were attracted to Pie Town, New Mexico in June 1940 for the same reasons tourists are today: the town’s quirky name on a map attracts attention. And, they heard you really could get pie. But the Lees, like tourists today, had a long drive to get there. The town is located 80 miles west of Socorro on Hwy 60. It’s another 70 miles to the Arizona border. The drive is a scenic one, however, with ranch land, Pinon Pine and Junipers dotting the landscape. An occasional antelope or deer may bound by.

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Jim’s Truck

Jim and Jimbo Williams, Magdalena, NM , July 10, 2010

©Bruce Berman

Jim and Jimbo Williams are from Quemado, New Mexico and are ranchers. Jim, left, restored his 1951 International Harvester truck over a ten year period until, “It runs like a top.”

New Mexico, 1940. A time in which

homesteaders still used burros/donkeys

as a means of transportation.

Photograph by Russell Lee

Jim Williams’ mother, and Jimbo’s grandmother, Eleanor Heacock (Williams) is the subject of a famous photograph taken by Russell Lee for the FSA, at their Rising Sun Ranch. The Lee photograph depicts Miss Heacock riding a mule in a race.

He and his father Jim are aware of  Russell Lee and Jim “treasures the photograph.” The name of their ranch, and where the famous phoitograph was taken, is called the Rising Star Ranch.

The grant that has made this project possible is called The Rising Star Grant.

Whoa.

I have no idea what all that means!

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