More American Photos Exhibition

Alysa Sharp


Exhibition of Contemporary Art paper

“More American Photographs”

Upon going to the MCA Denver Museum and seeing the exhibition entitled More American Photographs I found that it was a profound statement of where America has come since the Great Depression and how it still is similar. This exhibition has over one hundred works each presenting an example from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) with commissioned work from contemporary artists such as Katy Grannan, Stephen Shore, Martha Rosler, Larry Clark, and Roe Ethiridge; for a total of twelve contemporary artists with commissioned work. Each of these works were inspired by the FSA’s 1930’s and 1940’s program that documented the Great Depression’s effects upon not only the American landscape but the people as well, More American Photographs offers a portrait of America within today’s society in the wake of the Great Recession.

The FSA incorporated the works owned by the Library of Congress illustrating the diverse effects of the recent economic calamities: environmental disasters, factory-ghost towns, and the collapse of the housing boom and a lack of economic mobility. Many of the contemporary artists that are included don’t often work in a documentary style. They each though however, has emulated the same straightforward and unglamorous style of photorealism that the pioneers of the FSA photographers in the 1930s did. The FSA from 1935-1944 was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal which hired photographers to record scenes of Americans impacted by the Great Depression. More American Photos comes along this same genre of realism not seen before, with a new round of economic turmoil there can be seen a clear parallel to those bad days in the Great Depression.  More American Photos comes along this same genre of realism not seen before, with a new round of economic turmoil there can be seen a clear parallel to those bad days in the Great Depression. Here though within the MCA, the new color photographs share the space with the classic prints. The walls are alternated between large, color prints of the new work and smaller black-and-white prints of the older work.

One artist in particular that caught my eye was Catherine Opie’s photos in which they are composed in a modern way where the environmental details tell as much as the subject’s face, here is an example of her work titled “Bravo”, 2011. This photo for me anyways draws me to the altar at the right of the counter, and the prayer atop the display of door locks and deadbolts, a couple of which have been removed, maybe even sold. Hardware stores sometimes or perhaps always have little micro zones or climates, areas with their own little genus loci. It might involve the precision tools and measuring instruments; or boxes of files, or a photo of the old days, but either way this photo illustrates how far America has come from the Great Depression and how the “American Dream” is still possible yet how the economic struggle can take affect on a business. I’m saying this because look at the clutter and how little anything is missing. As well though look at the owners face it looks drawn and worn out.

            Or perhaps take a look at Katy Grannan “Untitled Bakersfield, California,” 2011 which was paired with Dorothea Lange’s “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California, 1936.” I felt the pairing of these two was brilliant and very moving. Not only do they both depict the hardship that the families were facing but as well were able to capture the long gaze of a hopeful new opportunity, beginning, and fresh start. The drastic shift between the color photo of Grannan’s and then the black and white photo of Lange’s creates a dramatic and yet profound effect on the viewer because it helps create contrast and furthermore helps emphasize the comparison of the Great Depression and today’s Great Recession.


In conclusion this exhibition was one that was powerful and effective to help bring together the past with the present. The combination of color and black and white even further emphasize that the past may not be so far behind us. With in the galleries the visitors can engage with the works and reflect upon the personal stories revealed within the photographs both new and old. This exhibit is intimate but on a much larger and broader scale; it aims to see inside the human spirit coast-to-coast.  For me I felt like that this exhibition was not one of comparison of the Great Recession and the Great Depression in the sense of dramatizing the two but rather to help illustrate the struggle that there still is and how history does and can still repeats itself. As well though I felt like it hit on the American spirit of survival and that people will work, do what they can, and get back on their feet some way ,shape or form. These photographs depict the real reality of what is going on within American society today and how people fight to survive.


Works Cited:

“More American Photographs.” CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Web. 27 Apr. 2012. <;.

“‘More American Photographs’ Offers a Glimpse of America’s Recession.” – Web. 27 Apr. 2012. <;.

“FSA/OWI B&W Photographs.” 301 Moved Permanently. Web. 27 Apr. 2012. <;.

One Response

  1. Alyssa your review of the More American Photos exhibition is really fascinating. I completely agree with your opinion that the comparison of our current recession and the Great Depression is not to dramatize either. What I would wonder about when seeing this exhibit is whether or not we can compare the FSA and WPA Great Depression works which were commissioned by the government to help our economy to artists who are acting only on artistic motivations. I am not trying to say that the FSA and WPA works are not valid artistically because of their origins but just wondering how the motivations between the two collections influence the results. The other concern of mine is the curatorial decision to display the newer images on a much larger scale than the older images. If we were trying to hold a valid comparison between the works, wouldn’t we want the images to be the same size to allow equal representation?

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