Results tagged “Lewis Hine” from this Public Address 2.0

Representing Crisis

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Representing Crisis

A beta version of the website collating my research is now up and accessible. It is now more friendly to lower bandwidth users, and more extensively linked. Testing the earlier version revealed something I had long suspected: typical users are much smarter than Jacob Nielson gives them credit for. They had no difficulty using the navigation, and inspired me to make more intra-page navigation available.

This is just the first step toward a more logical arrangement for the material that I’m gathering. I realize it is difficult for even long-time readers of my blog to figure out how the pieces I occasionally post fit together. Eventually, I will link from the timeline and other indexes that I will be adding to the blog entries. Blogging my research has been great, but it is very difficult to set up logical categories when you have no idea where things fall, or what the categories are when you find pieces to the puzzle.

The major reason for doing things this way is because some of the figures I’m researching are well represented on the web— such as Lewis Hine, who was the first sub-page added. Right now, it mainly collects the most useful links I’ve found. I want to add a more detailed bibliography to print articles later. Other figures, like Edwin Rosskam, have little or no presence on the web, a situation I hope to remedy. I want to place representative samples from his books online. There is a lot of work to be done, and by doing it this way I’m getting a bigger sense of how these things are related to each other. This will help my writing process.

The address to the front page will remain constant as material is added, so linking to it is fine now. Right now, it covers a lot of material in a shallow way. The depth will come later. I mainly wanted to get my approach and navigation issues sorted out. Suggestions for additions, or any error reports are welcome. This is a major step for me, after six months or more of gathering stuff— some items probably won’t make sense to everyone, because they are part of my larger thesis though not specifically representational in nature. It was nice to step back for a second, and gather them together.

The pages validate, and are designed for at least 1024x768. I haven’t tested on a variety of browsers yet. I did resort to tables for positioning so I hope it won’t present a problem for the usual suspects. I’ve only checked it with Mozilla and IE 6.

Women at Work

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From American Economic Life by Rexford Tugwell, photo-editor Roy Stryker, photos by Lewis Hine, 1925.

Portrait of a Decade

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Gordon Parks, Washington DC 1942

Portrait of a Decade

I don't think anyone has done a really good “portrait” of the FSA decade (1932-42). But since I will be writing about it, I figured it would be a good idea to review some of the available books, both for their content and the mistakes I'd like to avoid.

Jack Hurley’s Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties (1972) is an excellent book in many respects. It has fresh, original research including first-person interviews with many of the people involved.

However, some of the basic concepts which it uses as a point of departure seem deeply flawed to me. Hurley ignores a lot of pioneering work through careful definitional exclusion. He feels that the Stryker was instrumental in enabling documentary work, work that would not have existed otherwise.

Edwin Rosskam gets a total of one paragraph. [I must amend— there are a couple more in chapter 6] Bourke-White and Caldwell are deprecated. The book follows a rather liberal party-line, where commercial=bad and all of the New Deal cheerleaders were the heroes. Evans is subsumed into this crowd, even though Hurley admits that it is an insult to him.

Intro. & Chap. 1
Chap. 2 — 9/1
Chap. 3 & 4 — 9/2
Chap. 5 — 9/8
Chap. 6 — 9/15
more to come later

Deep background in the “conventional” story sets this book apart. I like the book, but it is fairly shoddy scholarship. There are many errors, omissions, and travesties in the organizational structure. But it also has several leads I need to track down. The biggest problem is stripping away the obvious cheerleading to get to the meat.

A great find

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A great find.

More working notes. Silver Cities: The Photography of American Urbanization, 1839-1915 by Peter B. Hales published in 1984 is a great find. Hales did extensive research resulting in a sort of genre theory of early American photography. His argument for the importance of photography in cultural history mirrors much of what drives me regarding the period I want to focus most intensely on, 1937-41. Hale observes:

Surprisingly enough, little research has been done on the iconography of the American city, or on 19th century urban photographs in general. Most attention has been given to narrow studies of genres or to individual photographers like Arnold Genthe or Lewis Hine. In both cases, limitations of methodology and information, as well as aesthetic bias, have prevented the resulting works from suggesting models or wider concepts of study. (5)

I’m sort of taking my cues from Michael McKeon’s The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740. McKeon argues in his summation:

The argument of this study has been that the origins of the English novel, whose climax is signaled by the Richardson-Fielding rivalry of the 1740s, consist in the establishment of a form sufficient for the joint enquiry into analogous epistemological and social problems which themselves had a long prehistory of intense and diversified public debate. Rivalry does not preclude agreement: the real fact of conflict only facilitated the recognition that the two writers were engaged in what was also a common enterprise. (410)

I believe that the same could be said of the dynamic duos of Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell vs. Walker Evans and James Agee. Several competing modes of photography were wrapped around the creation of a new form of expression, the photographic book. Obviously, aesthetically Evans and Agee won... at least sort of. I’d like to suggest a wider study of the rhetorical relationship which constructed two disparate heroic images: the artist raging against society, and the heroic American public facing adversity together. The form of the documentary photographic book, in the examples I'm considering, addresses the same epistemological and social problems, with completely different means and ends. In the end, two distinctly different modes of visual rhetorical practice evolved.

From the Bend to Tobacco Road

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“The Bend” by Jacob Riis, 1890.

From The Bend to Tobacco Road

The energetic rhetoric of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal has its roots in what Theodore Roosevelt labeled as “muckracking.” Publicizing social issues was the primary tool of the progressive reform movements of the early twentieth century, and the camera was drafted into service quickly. Though he cursed journalism, Theodore Roosevelt embraced some of these efforts, particularly the work of Jacob A. Riis. The partnership is significant, because the relationship was reversed in the 1930s, as photographers and writers moved to support the policies of Franklin Roosevelt. By this time, the confluence of technology and social agenda reached new heights. But the use of text and image combined in books promoting social change was pioneered by Riis’s 1890 publication How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York.