More American Photography

More America Photography

The exhibition “More American” photographs is an innately intriguing exhibition as it highlights the unique relationship between the current economic state of America and the Great depression. The exhibit highlights some of the greatest American photographers of the 1930’s and 40’s such as the iconic Dorothea Lange, and Russell Lee. These artists’ work captured the essence of America at the height of the Great Depression and provided insight into the life of the common man during this monumental economic struggle. The works of these artists have come to represent this time period and effectively convey the emotional and physical representation of America during its greatest economic struggle in history. Curators of “More American Photographs” effectively utilize these iconic American photographs to analyze the relationship between America at the height of the great depression and America now at the height of the great recession through juxtaposition of these iconic photographers with contemporary photographers. The exhibition highlights the similarities between America in the 1930s and 1940s and now through photographic documentation.

The works of the 9 iconic photographers from the 1930’s and 40s were attained from the library of congress’ private collection. The original great American photographers were hired by the Farm Security Administration at the height of the Great Depression to document the impact in rural America. This was part of a program sponsored by the new deal as a means of recording United States history and boosting the United States economy through the utilization of people such as artists with specialized skills. The program helped to better the U.S. economy as well as document the true impact of the great depression.

The contemporary artists reflect different strata of American, the modern common man and their work deals with the documentation of America as it faces its current economic struggles. The work is highly charged as it captures the essence of poverty and the struggle that many Americans face in these hard times. These works differ from the FSA iconic artists in the sense that they are not governmentally funded and their work comes from a somewhat more personal place. The works of the contemporary artists in this exhibition are grounded in a personal experience with the looming threat of poverty, and in many cases the artists document their own experiences and neighborhoods. The body of work as a whole is moving especially as the work that the contemporary artists present are colorful and vibrant where as the FSA sponsored artists worked exclusively in black and white photography.

Overall the exhibition was highly successful as the work was well displayed and seamlessly melded between the two different groups of artists. The contemporary work and historic work were displayed next to one another and in many ways generated an effective dialogue between the works which serve as a comparison for America during the great depression, and now. The unique experience was somewhat hindered however as the prints from the historical artists were all laser jet replicas as opposed to the authentic silver gel prints. However this is the only thing that detracted from the show and it was a mild detraction at best.

One of the strongest works from the show was that of the iconic artist Dorthea Lange “Migrant Mother.” “Migrant Mother” was shot in 1935 in Nipomo California. As part of propaganda campaign to show the effectiveness of the federal government during the dustbowl the work effectively portrays the government in a positive light. The subject is a mother and her children displaced by the dustbowl and living as refugees. The work is innately beautiful as it captures the maternal essence through the dynamic pose of the mother holding her infant child, huddled with her other two children. The work is emotional in it’s conception as a mother is the person whom every child flies to for protection and comfort yet the look on her face shows that she has the same yearning. Her facial expression denotes an innate fear, a worry about her future and that of her children, to her children she appears strong and as a symbol of stability yet she in many ways appears to yearn to be held and have the same sensation that there is a constant and that everything will be alright. In this way the work serves not merely as a statement on motherhood, but rather adulthood as a whole. The work spans the age gap and speaks to everyone in times of trouble, showing the inner strength that one must find to help those that they love even though it cannot always be assured that they themselves will be alright. The work is further charged when one researches the subjects of the work, Lange’s original caption “seven people down to three young children” identifies the loss this family has suffered in this period of economic plight. Yet the work serves as duality between this family’s loss and the conformation to the standard of middle class family size in 1935. The work is beautifully shot and was printed to perfection as the mother is highlighted in the work and the subtle gradient from dark to light innately causes the eye to look at her and truly observe. The emotion in this work comes from both the pose as well as strong facial expression of the woman. Overall the piece is emotionally charged, and moving as it captures the essence of the American family at the height of the great depression.

Another work, which was highly charged and generated a unique experience, was “Bravo” by Catherine Opie. Opie works as a photographer out of the Los Angeles area who’s work deals with the documentation of local neighborhoods and the common man. The work Bravo is stunning as Opie utilizes the natural structure of the plumbing store display to frame the storeowner and to create a sense of tension within the work as the storeowner becomes the focal point of the work. This sensation is aided by the innate business of the surroundings. The signs are in both Spanish and English and are symmetrical, where as the inventory is extensive and chaotic. Overall the work is powerful as the store owner’s face becomes the primary focus and in his eyes it becomes possible to see the difficulties that this man faces, whether it be the reality that small individually run stores are slowly dieing in the united states due to the growth of large corporations and the economic downturn that has griped this nation and come to be known as the great recession. The work is also stunning as it is highly colorful and quite vibrant, the framing of the work combined with the vibrancy of the inventory and the subject’s somewhat muted shirt helps to capture the viewer’s focus and generates a sense of tension in the work.

In conclusion it is through the subtle juxtaposition of these contemporary works with those of the 1935 FSA project that a subtle yet powerful dialogue occurs, analyzing the relationship between the economic situation of the United States in the past and the current situation. The exhibition captures the essence of the great recession and highlights the development of economic problems in the United States, as progress has been made; yet this generation is in nearly the same situation as the one that lived during the 1930’s and 40s. Overall the exhibition was a powerful and moving experience, which helped to highlight the subtle complexities of the economy and the economic stresses that have plagued America in two different eras. Through this analysis one can come to see the relationship between these two generations and how they are so similar in situation and how the only thing that has changed is time.

3 Responses

  1. This exhibit seems spectacular! I have always been curious about authenticity when it comes to photographs displayed in museums so it was interesting to discover that the prints in this exhibit were laser print replicas instead of the original. It was great reading about the Migrant Mother piece, mainly because you were so descriptive with describing it.

  2. You’re paper is very descriptive and very accurate to the actually exhibit. I actually went and saw the exhibit this weekend. Your description of migrant mother is dead on. Great job!

  3. The juxtaposition of two different generations at this exhibit seems really interesting. In particular, the piece “Migrant Mother” is described incredibly well and really hits the meaning behind the image home.

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