Friday, September 30, 2011

On Main Street USA

There has been much attention given to  America's living standards, especially the growing numbers of americans living on or below the poverty level.   Its a portrait that lends itself to photography.

In 1937 a visual record  of the Great Depression in the United States was began by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) , originally called the Resettlement Administration (RA).  Headed by Roy Stryker,  the historical department  commissioned photographers to document the effects of federal measures to help farmers , conservation programs , and resettlement projects for migrant workers.

Shooting scripts were given to describe things like  field harvesting , farmers in line at banks , church worships and country fairs.   Those photographers that went off script and ventured into the barren landscape to photograph the toll taken of the human face impacted with sadness was felt all the way back to Washington , D. C.  Best known is the image by Dorothea Lang , Migrant Mother , Nipomo California , in March 1936.  Other great photographers as Walker Evans and his portraits of the Sharecropper Bud Fields and his family at home in Hale County , Alabama , 1935 - 36.  The great photographer Gordon Parks turned his camera on  black americans living in city squalor tenement buildings in New York City.

Images of adversity and impoverishment are more a staple now than they were then. The portraiture of the faces are just as diverse too. Yet what sets this current approach apart from the honored memory of the Great Depression photography is that todays photographers have a deep understanding of documentary photography whereas the photographers of the FSA had to figure it out in the field.  There is an open plain simplicity to that time compared to a naturalized stylishness of today.

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