Exhibition paper “More American Photographs” (Hsuan Wang)

Hsuan Wang




More American Photographs

In the past, people used painting, drawing, and sculpture to record stuff, such like portrait, landscape, or the history event. Yet, after developed the camera, photography replace the function of those, it became the material for people to record. The photography shows the importance in the art history, because the photography is not just showing the reality things like News, or recording the history event, it can used for other purpose. Sometimes it is not just what the image show; it can become words for the artist. It can represent what the artist’s opinion and things they wants to say or want the audience to feel. The image has its own words, not everyone can see the same or feel the same on the same image.

In this exhibition, MCA Denver “More American Photographs,” represents an example from the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which was an effort during the Depression to combat American rural poverty. It improve the lifestyle of sharecropper, tenants, very poor landowning farmers, and a program to purchase sub marginal land owned by poor farmers and resettle them in group farms on land more suitable for efficient farming. This show includes many photos, and artist, such like Walead Beshty, Alec Soth, William E. Jones, and Ben Shahn…etc.

The stores, cowboy, and street view on the photographs are all trying to show the life of American, what kind of clothes they wear, what kind of food they eat, and what the landscape looks like…etc. It makes the audience understand the culture and life the American people used to live within the Great Depression. It recorded the way of surviving in this land, and the society of American. The American struggles with the most depressed economy since the Great Depression, and this exhibition successfully show the audience about the difficulty during this time. The emotion the photo has is powerful and every photo has its own story.

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II, the great depression effects in countries, like American, rich and poor. In the exhibition, there is one of the photos taken by Russell Lee, Christmas dinner in home of Earl Pauley, 1936, which is black and white image show four children eating indoor, the house made by wood and there is no paint on the wall. The title is Christmas dinner, but the food shows on the image are soup, salad, and some bread; this is not what the audience usually eats on Christmas dinner. This photo really catches my eyes, the children do not feel any uncomfortable with old and dirty clothes, or they have to stand to eat; the only face expression children has is desire to eat. It can show the audience about “poor” during the Great Depression, and the life style they have.

The picture also represent the Great Depression is Destitute pea pickers in California, mother of seven children, age thirty-two, 1936, taken by Dorothea Lange. This photo shows a mother in the middle of the photo, and there are three children around her. One of them put hands on mother’s shoulder, one of them put head on mother’s shoulder and the last one is lying in her arm. The clothes they wear are old, and the children’s face looks dirty. The mother does not look like thirty-two, she looks older than her age. She has many wrinkles on her forehead, and her face expression looks worry and tired. Her eyes are looking toward, but she is not focus on anything, she feels like she is thinking about something. This photo is powerful from the emotion it gives to the audience, this can see what a mother is like during the year of Great Depression.

The other photo that I think is interesting is by Hank Willis Thomas, Strawberry Mansion, 2011. This is an artwork that combine many photos together become a long photo artwork. The reason he did this is for his grandmother, his grandmother lived for more than 60 years at the neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion, so he took a portrait of every house on the block combine them together, become a view of his grandmother’s life and environment around the house. This photograph is different from any others, it show the audience by 3-dimensional way. Most of the house is red, and some looks very old. People in the photo looks like they are doing something normal daily, such like ride a bike, throw out the garbage, walking down the street…etc. This is showing the real life style and culture in this neighborhood.

I am an immigrant in this land, so I did not understand the life people used to have here. The economy, people, culture, and life are very different in the photos compare with the life I know right now in America.  When I am looking at the photos, everything interested and impressed me, because it is like watching an old American movie and it makes me feels like every single photograph has a story behind it. This show let me see another life of American, the life that I did not know about; and each photograph represent different part of culture in American.



“Great Depression.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, April 25, 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression>

“”More American Photographs’ offers a glimpse of America’s recession.” Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2012. < http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2012/03/more-american-photographs-offers-a-glimpse-of-americas-recession.html>

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One Response

  1. Your paper offered some valuable insights. In the first paragraph, you synthesized the post-modern theory of photography and the ways in which photography is not just a record, but can be more than a record. Equally, photography can be misleading.

    I also was interested in reading your paper because as you said, you are not originally from America. It was valuable for me to read your perspective on such distinctly American photography.

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