I think it was probably my dad’s subscription to National Geographic that first got me interested in photography. Every month they’d arrive with gorgeous images from the four corners of the earth. When I graduated from college I got an internship in the photography department of a then popular lifestyle magazine in Manhattan. I did not choose photography, but all the internships in features were taken and besides the photography editor seemed so much nicer.
During that seemingly brief time of my life I found myself exploring the wonderful world of photography. I took a lot of pictures (mostly bad), looked at a lot of portfolios (mixed), and when time allowed I went to photo exhibits.
Since then, photography has stuck with me. Mostly I just admire other people’s work, but sometimes I like to play around with my camera – and let’s face it amateurs – Instagram and Snapseed certainly make that easier.
I’ve gone through periods of admiring different types of photography, but I always come back to loving B&W images most. There’s something incredibly timeless about them. I was telling my friend S that I love B&W photography over color, because I think it is harder to get a beautiful shot in B&W. You can cover up imperfections with color – be distracted by what’s going on – like a theatrical stage with a lot of furniture and props vs. just two actors baring themselves. There’s an intensity. She disagreed, but I’m still put.
Earlier this year I took a free online course through Coursera with the University of London. The course “The Camera Never Lies” was about how images and media are used as historical evidence in the twentieth century, issues of authenticity and manipulation, and the place of film and historical adoptions as public history.
One of the best examples of providing accurate historical evidence of rural conditions, something I am often far more interested in, are the collection of photographs from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in the 1930s.
The FSA was supposed to help poor rural farming families during the Great Depression get loans and provide subsistence homestead training programs.
Roy Stryker, who worked for the FSA and knew the power of strong images, helped launch a photography program to document the people FSA was trying to help and landscape where they lived. The program resulted in thousands of images published in outlets nationwide, which promoted the work FSA was doing, and introduced the effects of the Great Depression on rural America to the country.
One of the photographers Stryker hired was Dorothea Lange, who is as far as I am concerned one of the most iconic documentary/historical photographers period. Best known for their Depression-era work, she would see the growing number of unemployed outside the window of her San Francisco studio.
It was near there in 1933 she took what I consider to be one of the most perfect and historical images “White Angel Breadline” of a hungry person at the White Angel Jungle, a local soup kitchen. I got to stand in front of the images in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art a few years ago and it was as if time stood still for me for just a few minutes. Standing that close to something so beautiful and devastatingly real.
A couple years after taking that picture she began photographing migrant workers in California for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and from there for the FSA.
All images by Dorothea Lange from her book The American Country Woman, published by the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, TX. Top image (cover), second from bottom (family farmstead in Nebraska, 1940), bottom image (unknown in California, 1938)