Migrant Mother ( Florence Owens Thompson), Nipomo Valley California for the Farm Security Administration
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was commissioned by the Farm Security Administration to document the impact of federal programs in improving rural conditions. It was a picture that literally changed history. That day, Dorothea took only six images, using her Graflex series D 4×5 camera. Note, only six images … how many would most of us take today? Also, at that time, she did not talk to her subjects.
Lange later said: “I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.”
To quote eyewitnesshistory: “After returning home, Lange alerted the editor of a San Francisco newspaper to the plight of the workers at the camp, presenting him with two of her photos. The editor informed federal authorities and published an article that included Lange’s images. As a result, the government rushed a shipment of 20,000 lbs. of food to the camp. The mother and her family had moved on by the time the food arrived. The photo’s wider impact included influencing John Steinbeck in the writing of his novel The Grapes of Wrath.”
As she was funded by the federal government, the image was in the public domain and Dorothea never directly received any royalties. The image was issued as a 32 cent U.S. stamp in 1998.
The mother’s name was only discovered in the 1970s. She was Florence Owens Thompson, mother at that time of seven children, and there is some evidence that she hadn’t expected the picture to be published. She never made a penny from the photograph, although she went on to build a much better life, and she died in 1980. Dorothea Lange had died in 1965.
From a photographer’s perspective, there are a couple of very interesting points to note. First, the original image had a thumb showing in the bottom left, as shown by the original record held by the Farm Security Administration. This was retouched out, and that version became the picture that we all know.
Once you know this, you will for ever see the thumb, even in the modified image. Not an issue at all for me, but Photoshop ethics, anyone … ?
From ‘The Americans’, taken 1955, published 1958
‘Looking In” - The definitive guide to Robert Frank‘s seminal work “The Americans“. From the National Gallery of Art Exhibition of 2009, the book features all of the images and all of his contact sheets – in themselves, reason to get this book, to start to understand Frank’s options and his thought processes. It also explores his approach to curation and sequencing of the 83 “Americans” images. Beautifully produced, with insightful biography and other essays, putting “The Americans” into context with work both before Frank travelled to those 30 states, and his work after publication of the book (in 1958). Brilliant book put together by Sarah Greenough, Senior Photography Curator at the National Gallery. A must.
Robert Frank (1924) began studying photography in 1941 and spent the next six years working for commercial photography and graphic design studios in Zurich, Geneva, and Basel. In 1947 he traveled to the United States, where Alexey Brodovitch hired him to make fashion photographs at Harper's Bazaar.
Although a few magazines accepted Frank's unconventional use of the 35-millimeter Leica for fashion work, he disliked the limitations of fashion photography and resigned a few months after he was hired. Between 1950 and 1955 he worked freelance producing photojournalism and advertising photographs for LIFE, Look, Charm, Vogue, and others. He also garnered support for his independently produced street photographs from important figures in the New York art world, including Edward Steichen, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Walker Evans, who became an important American advocate of Frank's photography.
It was Evans who suggested that he apply for the Guggenheim Fellowship that freed him to travel throughout the country in 1955 and 1956 and make the photographs that would result in his most famous book, The Americans, first published in France as Les Américains in 1957.
After its publication in America in 1959, he devoted an increasing amount of time to making films, including Pull My Daisy and Cocksucker Blues, both of which exemplify avant-garde filmmaking of the era. Since 1970, Frank has divided his time between Nova Scotia and New York; he continues to produce still photographs in addition to films.
The Americans was one of the most revolutionary volumes in the history of photography, and it was a source of controversy when it was published in the United States. Frank's cutting perspective on American culture, combined with his carefree attitude toward traditional photographic technique, shocked most Americans who saw it at the time. During the next decade, however, these qualities of his photography became touchstones for a new generation of American photographers; indeed, Frank's work continues to shape contemporary photography.
Trolly, from ‘The Americans’, taken 1955, published 1958
Hopi Maiden, 1901
Adam Clark Vroman (1856 -1916) started working for the Railroad in 1874. In 1892, to improve his wife’s health, they moved to Pasadena, California. He began taking photographs in 1892.
In 1895 he started work on a complete series of the California missions. That summer he accompanied an expedition to Arizona, and for the next ten years photographed the Southwest. In 1894 after the death of his wife, he entered into a partnership with J.S. Glasscock and opened a book and photographic supply store. The store prospered and Vroman’s Bookstore still operates in Pasadena today.
Zuni Pueblo, 1895
Taxi, New York, 1957
Saul Leiter (1923-2013) was born in Pittsburgh, the son of an internationally renowned Talmudic scholar. Leiter's interest in art began in his late teens, and though he was encouraged to become a Rabbi like his father, he left theology school and moved to New York to pursue painting at age 23. In New York, he befriended the Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart, who was experimenting with photography. His friendship with Pousette-Dart and soon after, with W. Eugene Smith, expanded his interest in photography. Leiter's earliest black and white photographs show an extraordinary affinity for the medium. By the 1950s, he began to work in color as well, compiling an extensive and significant body of work during the medium’s infancy. His distinctively subdued color often has a painterly quality that stood out among the work of his contemporaries.
Leiter’s first exhibition of color photography was held in the 1950s at the Artist's Club, a meeting place for many of the Abstract Expressionist painters of that time. Edward Steichen included twenty-three of Leiter's black and white photographs in the seminal 1953 exhibition “Always the Young Stranger” at the Museum of Modern Art; he also included twenty of Leiter’s color images in the 1957 MoMA conference “Experimental Photography in Color.” In the late 1950s, the art director Henry Wolf published Leiter's color fashion work in Esquire and later in Harper's Bazaar. However, over the next four decades, Leiter’s noncommercial work remained virtually unknown to the wider art world. He continued to work as a fashion photographer through the 1970s, contributing to such publications as in Show, Elle, British Vogue, Queen, and Nova.
Leiter is now held to be a pioneer of early color photography, and is noted as one of the outstanding figures in post-war photography. After several exhibitions at Howard Greenberg Gallery throughout the 1990s, Leiter’s work experienced a surge of popularity after a monograph, Early Color, was published by Steidl in 2006. Early Color was followed by a series of monographs and international exhibitions highlighting the depth and scope of his work in photography and painting, beginning with “In Living Color” (2006), his first major retrospective at the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Leiter was the subject of several solo shows thereafter, including the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris; the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam; Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; and Diechtorhallen, Hamburg.
Recent monographs include Early Black and White (2014), Painted Nudes (2015), In My Room (2017), All about Saul Leiter (2017), Fashion Eye: Saul Leiter New York (2017). Leiter’s work is included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Victoria and Albert Museum, London and many other public and private collections. Leiter was the subject of an award-winning documentary by Tomas Leach, titled “In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter” (2012).
Postmen, New York, 1952
Daido Moriyama (born October 10, 1938) is a Japanese photographer noted for his images depicting the breakdown of traditional values in post-war Japan.
Moriyama’s work is saturated with the melancholic beauty of life at its most ordinary. His photographs epitomize wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic of finding beauty in imperfection. Daido Moriyama was born in 1938 along with a twin brother, who died when Daido was two. His childhood was spent in the town of Urawa, outside Tokyo where the passing GI’s would throw chocolate and chewing gum to the children. Citing Kerouac’s On the Road as one of his greatest influences, Moriyama draws inspiration from Atget and Weegee as well as William Klein and Warhol. Comparing himself to a machine gun, Moriyama fires off his camera in rapid bursts of instinctive shooting.
The 1980s finds Moriyama at his most lyrical. With the extreme provocations of his 60s and 70s work behind him, he turns to a plainer, more centered investigation of everyday life. His camera and his printing (he makes all his prints himself) are voracious, hungry all the time. He seems to be intent on finding beauty and meaning in every scrap and horizon that the sun reveals to his eye. Moriyama’s output since 1968 is legendary.
He has produced over 150 books of his photographs. He has had over 100 solo exhibitions. In the U.S., he was a central figure in MoMA’s groundbreaking 1974 New Japanese Photography, and in 1999 SFMoMA organized and exhibited the retrospective Daido Moriyama: Stray Dog, which was also shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Japan Society in New York.
“When I go out into the city I
have no plan. I walk down one
street, and when I am drawn to
turn the corner into another, I do.
I am like a dog: I decide where to
go by the smell of things, and
when I am tired, I stop”.