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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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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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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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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News Isn’t Cheap: 1936-2011

The NBC Control Room in NYC, 1936

(photographer unknown)

Article by Bruce Berman

What did Russell Lee do when he was on the road? His notes indicate that he did a lot of thinking about what he had shot at the last stop and what he needed to shoot at the next stop. However, in the thousands of miles that he logged in for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) he must have found “blank spaces” in his travels, times when he was bored with the road, even the job and its mission.

Did he have a radio in his old Ford? He was an innovator and, as a photographer, he was up on the latest technology, being one of the first photojournalists of his day to use the Rollieflex Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera (which had a 2 1/4inch square negative and, thus, was small and mobile). This would lead one to speculate that, perhaps Lee was also interested in other technologies and, when he “hit the road” for the FSA, radios and radio networks were a fairly recent innovation.

There were 599 radio stations in 1936.

Broadcasting of the 599 broadcasting stations in the United States, approximately 500 were licensed to different individuals or corporations. There were two major network organizations–the National Broadcasting Company, operating two national networks linking in whole or part a total of about eighty stations, and the Columbia Broadcasting System, also linking about eighty stations but in a single network in whole or part. Most of these stations were individually owned by private enterprises.

News to people along Russell Lee’s Road, and other rural locations, could get there news more rapidly from radio than they could from print media and, once the radio had been purchased, the news was free if you were anywhere near a broadcasting tower or had a radio in your car.

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The 1930’s And Cultural Expansion

http://youtu.be/0ZM-CxkuCkE
Sights & Sounds of the Farm Security Administration 19335-1943 Part 1 by the Pare Lorenzt Center

Radio with ornaments and decorations in home of

FSA client (Farm Security Administration) client

near Caruthersville, Missouri, by Russell Lee/FSA

The 1930’s and Cultural Expansion

Part One: Music

Article by Bruce Berman

Russell Lee’s 1930’s –The Great Depression- was a time of hardship and scarcity and fear. One might think that these facts would engender an atmosphere of emotional darkness and gloom. Indeed, in the early years of the Depression -1929-1933- there were few indicators that anything good could come out of this disaster. The Stock Market had crashed, the Dust Bowl had devastated several states, reducing agriculture (and, thus, farming) to an unsustainable means of living, forcing major waves of migration in pursuit of better opportunities. There was political uncertainty as the country moved from the passive but seemingly robust Republicanism of the 1920’s, (in which many Americans had to believe they, to, were too become rich) and the uncertain experimentation of the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt’s bold but unproven neo-Socialism, had not yet been proven.

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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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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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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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Abandoned and Almost Stranded: The Times They Aren’t A’Changin’

October 1937. "Abandoned garage by Russell Lee for FSA
July 2010, Abandoned gas station, Elida, NM by Bruce Berman/NMSU

Text and Photograph by Bruce Berman

1936 Ford. 1994 Honda Station Wagon. They only have two things in common: they were both “born,” in the 20th century and they both use gas.

One, the Ford -Lee’s- was created, of course, in Detroit. The Honda-mine- was made by a Japanese car company, and was assembled in Indianapolis.

One, the Ford, and its powerful Flathead V8 was considered an advanced and state-of-the-art automobile with solid Ford Mechanical engineering.

The Honda, in its time (1994) was considered an advanced automobile, touted for its advanced electrical engineering.

It is now considered a “clunker.”

Economics change. Then, the average price of a gallon of gasoline was $ .15. For 2010, the average price is $ 2.75.

Then, the automobile was replacing the horse. Now, the automobile is considered a necessity for travel, work and play and some people, “The Greens,” call for replacing personal automobiles with public transit.

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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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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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