Additional reading notes-Lecture 6

These notes are from Photography: A Cultural History Pgs 277-287.

  • Documentary photography in America really came into its own during the great depression of the 1930’s, with many photographers showing varied responses to both the social and political aspects of the time.
  • This early documentary photographing paved a large legacy for the medium which continues today.
  • Around the same time radio took hold as a popular item in the American household. Many felt that the radio broadcasts where far more truthful and impartial to that of newspapers.
  • Newspapers and magazine photographs where in directed competition to up to minute news that was now possible over the airways, as well as to the motion picture which had at this point successfully transmitted sound to go with the moving image.
  • Documentary photographers at the time aimed to show their subjects as normal people who where down on their luck, with the hope that the viewers would come up with their own message to apply to the image.
  • The Farm Security Administration (F.S.A) started out originally as the Resettlement Administration (R.A) an organisation formed by President Roosevelt in an attempt to combat the Depression.
  • Roy Stryker who supervised the photographic activity for both organisations, with his job being to gather photographic evidence of the agency’s good work and transfer them to the press.
  • The photographers of the F.S.A had an understanding of documentary steeped in emotion and symbolic images. Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother was widely associated with the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus.
  • Stryker envisioned a policy that enabled full time professionals to methodically document the F.S.As work around the country and distribute swiftly to media outlets. Unfortunately the budget restraints didn’t allow for this , although around 1400 images where being produced a month.
  • One of┬áthe first photographers Stryker employed was Walker Evans who via contact with Berenice Abbott had view the works of Aget which had a profound effect on him.
  • Evans wasn’t so interested in the surreal aspects of Aget’s but quoted that there was a “lyrical understanding of the street”.
  • Evans believed in finding scenes and objects that implied something as a metaphor and not as it really was.
  • Evans took leave from the R.A and worked for Fortune magazine alongside James Agee. Together they documented the lives of three cotton plantation workers families, which was later published in a book titled Let us now praise famous men.
  • Evans never saw eye to eye with Stryker’s guidelines. His images didn’t tell the story Stryker needed, which eventually led to his dismissal from the FSA.
  • Evans photographs where timeless, and his work inspired a great number of future photographers such as Robert Frank.
  • Dorothea Lange joined the RA in 1935 with a realisation of how photography could showcase inequality.
  • She mainly concentrated on San Francisco on the breadlines focusing on migrants with her future husband Paul Taylor.
  • He most famous shot Migrant mother was a series of 32 she took of the lady and her children in a frozen pea field.
  • Lange continued to work for the FSA of 5 years
  • Another photographer who joined the RA early on was Arthur Rothstein. His worked was overshadowed due to the circumstances of him altering a scene when he moved a skull he was photographing, which caused outrage.
  • However he was fairly groundbreaking as he was one of the first to use Kodachrome film, originally designed for cinema, giving the photographs a look that had previously not been seen.

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