PHOTOGRAPHY OF DOROTHEA LANGE | AN AMERICAN ARCHIVE– HARD TIMES

Oregon, August 1939. “Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note Social Security number tattooed on arm.” Shorpy determined through a public records search that 535-07-5248 belonged to one Thomas Cave, born July 1912, died in 1980 in Portland, OR. Which would make him 27 years old when this picture was taken. This pic has long been a favorite of mine. First, there’s the handsome rake with his devilish “cat that just ate the canary” grin, and his beautiful bride lounging in the background with her equally impressive model-worthy looks. Second, there is more than a little irony for me in this image, as we so often equate physical beauty with material success these days– but here’s a stunning couple eking out a living through sweat and toil one meal at a time. I’m tellin’ you, as sure as I live and breathe– poverty is the ultimate equalizer, folks.

California, March 1937. “Toward Los Angeles.” Another ironic pic– “Next Time Try The Train– Relax.”  Well– give me the fare and I will, buddy.  We ain’t walkin’ for our health…

The American photographer Dorothea Lange was a product of Hoboken, NJ (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965).  She started out her career in photography taking commercial portraits in 1920s San Francisco. Dorothea then worked in the Southwest with her first husband, painter Maynard Dixon. In the early 1930s, Lange intuitively took her camera to the streets, recording the breadlines and waterfront strikes of Depression era San Francisco.  That marked the beginning of a radical shift in her philosophy & photography, that would mark her life and give us some of the most iconic American images known.

In 1935, Lange began her landmark work for the Farm Security Administration, a Federal Agency. Collaborating with her second husband, labor economist Paul S. Taylor, she documented the troubled exodus of farm families migrating West in search of work. Lange’s documentary style achieved its fullest expression in these years, with photographs such as Migrant Mother becoming instantly recognized symbols of the Depression.

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PHOTOGRAPHY OF WILLIAM GEDNEY | AN AMERICAN ARCHIVE, KENTUCKY

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Man driving car and drinking can of beer. Kentucky, 1972. William Gedney Photographs and Writings Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gedney/

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Chances are, if you’re reading this you’re like me– isolated from the starkness and poverty represented in William Gedney’s haunting, honest images of Kentucky life taken back in 1964 & 1972.  We get wrapped up in our own comfortable little coccoon and forget that there’s a world out there, even today, without the internet, shopping malls, and Starbucks.  Driving across this great country years ago, and seeing parts of the rural south with my own eyes exposed me to a way of life in the outskirts of America that I was largely ignorant of.  Most of us have a whole lot to be thankful for, like the simple conveniences and access that we overlook everyday.

From the mid 1950s through the early 1980s, William Gedney (1932-1989) photographed throughout the United States (as well as India, and Europe). From street scenes outside his Brooklyn apartment, to the daily chores of unemployed coal miners, and the indolent lifestyle of hippies in Haight-Ashbury– Gedney recorded the lives of others with remarkable clarity and poignancy. These photographs (along with his notebooks and writings), illuminate the vision of an intensely private man who, as a writer and photographer, revealed the lives of others with striking sensitivity.

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Boy covered by dirt smoking cigarette with one hand, holding can of tobacco in other. Kentucky, 1964. William Gedney Photographs and Writings Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gedney/

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