“Photography: A Critical Introduction” Pt. 1

Began to read the Liz Wells book. It seems quite dense. A lot of information to take on. Lots of names and approaches.

Important to remember: we don’t have to tie ourselves to any of these ideas. You don’t have to work in them. They are descriptions of descriptions (?). A summary of the fights, divisions, direction and myths. Art vs Science. Fiction vs Fact. Truth vs Lies. The World vs Europe vs The USA. Original vs Copy. Exploitation vs Liberty. Power vs Lack of Power. They are useful tools for analysis and thought. Traces, codes, references, reminders, photographers, cameras, viewers, historical changes, what is a “photograph”? what is a “snapshot”? race, gender and class.

It is useful to see them applied to an image. To see them used practically. In this case “Migrant Mother“. It’s also interesting to see how it compares to other pictures taken at the same time.

It seems a “simple” picture. Easily understood. Propaganda/Icon for the FSA and the New Deal. It lacks a certain humanity and is (just) an icon (?). Passive, waiting for the great and the good. Other pictures in the series give more life to the Thompson family.  They are humans reacting to the camera. Downcast gaze. The camera an intrusion. She does not look a willing participant. The last image of the tent, which is prehaps not technically great, more of “snapshot” aesthetic, gives the family life. To me, as the viewer, this contains Barthes punctum, the case, the rocking chair, the comfort that distance from camera to subject gives the family, their new ability (in these photos) to return the camera’s gaze……life. They have history and futures. Life is hard but there is life not just icon. It is also a new(er) image for me is hasn’t been reduced to cliché (prehaps “Migrant Mother” always was a cliché, a repetition, a photo of a picture of a book of an archetype (?)).

If we look at other images (here) taken by Lange, the subjects have more life, children smile, people move and work and have lives. It’s not a good life but they are not all reduced to archetypes. Complexity.


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Filed under May 2011, Readings, Thoughts

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