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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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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Cars

Filling station in New Mexico. Boys pulling water from a well.

photograph by Russell Lee

by Mary Lamonica

Cars. By 1929, more than 26.5 million automobiles cris-crossed American roads. Between one-third and one-half of all families owned a vehicle when the stock market collapsed in October 1929.

Although many Americans lost homes and jobs during the Great Depression, those who could hung onto their automobiles and their radios. Both brought dreams of a better life, but cars might actually be able to get people there.

Cars, therefore, were more than mere vehicles of transportation during the depression years. Cars were hope. Cars were freedom. Cars often were homes, too, as abundant FSA photographs attest. It’s not surprising that so many people

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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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Queens: Old and Young

2010-2011 Queen of Heritage Days (and her son Lorenzo),

Darlene Pino, Magdalena, NM, July 2010

©Bruce Berman

October 1938. “Princesses on float at the National Rice Festival parade.

Crowley, Louisiana by Russell Lee for the FSA.

by Bruce Berman

Russell Lee went to a lot of parades, festivals and public events. So do I. Most information-oriented photographers do. It’s a good place to shoot because people are busy having fun, not thinking too much about what purpose a photographer might have for the photographs and a good photographer can come home with a lot of images that show people doing things, living life, interacting.

Some call this Street Photography.

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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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Tito’s Home

Tito Gonzales, Sumner, NM – June 2010
©Bruce Berman

Tito Gonzales was born in Fort Sumner, NM, in 1939, across the street from the Coronado Motel, where this photograph was made. The Coronado is on U.S. 60, the road that Russell Lee traveled, back and forth, during his journey through western New Mexico and back again.

Russell Lee drove past Tito’s house several times in his travels.

by Bruce Berman

“I really like it here,” he says, “It’s comfortable and you get a lot of people passing through looking for Billy the Kid and whatnot. You’re the first one who ever asked about the whereabouts of a dead photographer!”

Mr. Gonzales has lived in the Coronado for over thirty years.

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