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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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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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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