Term Paper: Photographers: Exploring the World

Pages: 15 (4382 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] She quickly learned how not to draw attention to herself.

After graduating high school, she moved to San Francisco. She worked in a photo finishing department of a camera store to pay the rent, making friends with a number of people including a wealthy businessman who paid for her to start a photo studio.

In 1935, Lange and her husband Paul Taylor, an associate professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, documented migrant farm workers in Nipomo and the Imperial Valley for the California State Emergency Relief Administration (ibid).

The Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA) passed by Congress in May, 1933 under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the first step in the program of relief at the beginning of the New Deal. The New Deal was a series of programs to give support, create jobs and stimulate economic recovery for the U.S.

Thousands of farmers had fled from the Midwest to California because of the drought, hoping to find better conditions. However, there were way too many workers and too few available jobs. Lange and Taylor took scores of photographs documenting the shocking conditions of the migrant workers in California whose homes were made of whatever materials they could find including cardboard, canvas, twigs and even grass. In their report, the photographers said, "Words cannot describe some of the conditions we see" (Sills 23). When the government officials received copies of the report done by Lange and Taylor, President Roosevelt responded by setting up camps with tents and trailers and providing food and clean sanitary facilities. The photographs had shown the truth and made people act.

From 1935 to 1942, Lange shot hundreds and hundreds of migrant workers, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and other victims of the Depression in 22 states, primarily in the South and West. In his biography of Lange, Milton Meltzer includes comments by her friend Ron Partridge on how she worked:

She would walk through the field and talk to people, asking simple questions -- what are you picking?... How long have you been here? When do you eat lunch?... I'd like to photograph you, she'd say, and by now it would be "Sure, why not," and they would pose a little, but she would sort of ignore it, walk around until they forgot us and were back at work.

The most poignant and moving photographs from Lange's trip convey a mood rather than describing circumstances or activities: a man squatting at the edge of the field, a mother and child in the tent opening, a group of men staring at the photographers. The photographs are character studies showing the textures of skin and clothing with an artist's eye and depicting posture, gesture and gaze with an ethnologist's.

When the Depression came to an end with World War II, Lange changed subjects rather than give up her documentary photography. Three months after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the relocation of Japanese-Americans into armed camps in the West. Soon after, the War Relocation Authority hired Lange to photograph Japanese neighborhoods, processing centers and camp facilities.

However, now Lange's feelings about what the government was doing gave her much discontent. She was not prepared to witness the disturbing racial and civil rights issues raised by Japanese internment. Lange quickly found herself at odds with her employer, the United States government.

To capture the spirit of the camps, Lange created images that contrast signs of human courage and dignity with physical evidence of the disgrace of forced imprisonment. Not surprisingly, the federal government censored many of Lange's photographs (Sills 27).

In fact, Lange's work was not actually seen in its entirety by the American people until 1972 when the Whitney Museum included a number of her photos into Executive Order 9066, an exhibit about Japanese internment. New York Times said that Lange's photographs conveyed the feelings of the victims as well as the facts of the crime.

After the war, Lange became the first woman awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, and she spent nearly ten years making photo essays for Life and other magazines. She also traveled extensively, taking photographs in Vietnam, Ireland, Pakistan, India, and elsewhere (Sills 30).

During the Depression, the Resettlement Administration also hired Walker Evans. Evans had taken up photography in 1928 at the age of twenty-five after he had spent time in Europe spending time with people in the arts and literature. It was not time wasted, though. In Paris he first developed his powers of observation. "Stare,' he advised his admirers years later," writes Belinda Rathbone in the biography Walker Evans describing the legacy of his days sitting and watching in Paris cafes. "It is the only way to educate your eye" (300)

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Evans' paid projects included illustrating a book that exposed the evils of Cuba's Machado regime and photographing African sculpture for the Museum of Modern Art. In New York City he also began photographing city street life, another area for which he is well-known (Documentary Photography 68)

Throughout the 18 months that he worked at the Resettlement Administration, he photographed in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. His best-known work during the period was a series of photographs of Alabama sharecroppers with author James Agee, Now Let Us Praise Famous Men (ibid).

Evans was committed to using the camera to capture life as it really was, convinced that the details of the image would speak more powerfully than any contrived artistic statement. At the same time, he would often spend hours or even days in front of a location, waiting for the one second in which to take that perfect shot.

In Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee and Evans followed the lives of three families, the Gudgers, the Woods, and the Ricketts. The individuals are most commonly captured with a frank, head-on camera angle with a stark reality. As Agee tells us, they posed themselves. According to Agee, Evans allowed the mothers to clean up their children, if they desired, before he photographed them. Candid shots were not to be achieved at the cost of shaming the families beyond the shame they already felt.

Unlike previous photography books that dispersed the pictures throughout the pages of the text, the placement of Evan's photographs within Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was experimental. The photographs, which were not labeled, were all bound together at the front of the book. Yet the photographs were not forgotten as Agee's noted, for his descriptions of the individuals, their homes and farmland are so alive that they continually draw the reader back to the photographs, each time with a new layer of understanding (ibid).

Although Evans is primarily known for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, photos on city life also made him a noted documentary photographer. From the late 1920s to the 1950s, he spent considerable time focusing his sites on Broadway, Wall Street,

Central Park, on the Bowery, across the bridge in Brooklyn, and up in the Bronx. Hurrying pedestrians, street vendors, the unemployed, advertisements large and small, and the Coney Island promenade were among the subjects the street offered (Evans).

These pictures of the neighborhood's residents, streets, signs, and buildings display Walker's interest in ordinary people and his fondness for vernacular expression. Referring in 1971 to some of his 1928 and 1929 photographs, he said, "I found I wanted to get a type in the street, a 'snapshot' of a fellow on the waterfront, or a stenographer at lunch." He captured life as it was then and will never be again, such as signs advertising thirty-cent lunches and five-cents-per-pound peaches (Evans).

He was also fascinated by architectural patterns -- masonry, windows, fire escapes, and shadows, transforming the photographs of apartment house facades into geometric designs. These photographs of tenement fronts emphasize his notable style of foreshortening, sharp-angled compositions, the use of strong shadows and the exclusion of the roof and sidewalk that heighten the degree of abstraction. Other wider views look up and down the block, where, whole buildings are seen in their architectural context and the block itself is presented as the setting for human activity.

When analyzing Evan's negatives it is apparent that he made multiple exposures in a quest for the most satisfactory photograph possible. He must have made two or three of each.

Evans spent his last 20 years as the photo editor of Fortune Magazine. During this period, he enjoyed a revival among a new generation of other artists and photographers, such as Robert Frank. To them, writes Rathbone, "Evans was a model of artistic integrity. His unheroic portrayal of the American scene, his affection for the primitive and his reticence toward political statement formed a foundation upon which they might build their own photo visions" (345).

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