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Posts Tagged ‘photography

“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”*…

 

From his office at the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C., Roy Stryker saw, time and again, the reality of the Great Depression, and the poverty and desperation gripping America’s rural communities. As head of the Information Division and manager of the FSA’s photo-documentary project, his job was to hire and brief photographers, and then select images they captured for distribution and publication. His eye helped shape the way we view the Great Depression, even today.

Professionally, Stryker was known for two things: preserving thousands of photographs from being destroyed for political reasons, and for “killing” lots of photos himself. Negatives he liked were selected to be printed. Those he didn’t—ones that didn’t fit the narrative and perspective of the FSA at the time, perhaps—were met with the business end of hole punch, which left gaping black voids in place of hog’s bellysindustrial landscapes, and the faces of farmworkers.

In 1935, the Resettlement Administration (RA) was established as part of the New Deal to provide relief, recovery, and reform to rural areas. The FSA, created in 1937, was its spiritual successor. The FSA’s duties included, but were not limited to, operating camps for victims of the Dust Bowl, setting up homestead communities, and providing education to more than 400,000 migrant families. Communicating about its efforts was also part of its mandate…

Stryker sought out photographers, among them Dorothea LangeGordon Parks, and Arthur Rothstein, and made their images readily available to the press. Given the lack of new photography and art being produced during the Great Depression, the photos regularly appeared in magazines such as LIFE and Look. He also had them displayed at the 1936 Democratic National Convention, the 1936 World’s Fair, the Museum of Modern Art, and other prominent venues. The publication of a series of early photographs, including Lange’s Migrant Mother, proved instrumental in pushing the federal government to provide emergency aid to migrant workers in California.

In the effort to represent the FSA and Roosevelt’s signature domestic achievement in a positive light, the chosen photos captured how the idealistic views of farm life were being tainted by poverty, and how the FSA programs were helping farmers reclaim their dignity. Common elements were decrepit housing conditions, the lack of food and clean water, and harsh work environments.

It was government propaganda, and there were certainly some within the government (both supporters and detractors) who saw it that way, and more who considered both the FSA and its photography project as communist and un-American. In a 1972 Interview, Stryker admits to having felt political pressure from the Department of Agriculture to portray the effectiveness of the New Deal. “Go to hell,” was his response. His photographers “were warned repeatedly not to manipulate their subjects in order to get more dramatic images, and their pictures were almost always printed without cropping or retouching.”

But there is a way to manipulate the story being told without altering the images themselves—the process of photo editing, of choosing which images to highlight and which to discard…

The fascinating story of one man’s (materially successful) effort to galvanize social and political opinion: “How a Hole Punch Shaped Public Perception of the Great Depression.”

And for an equally-fascinating consideration of how emerging new visual technologies might similarly be used to sway sentiment, read Fred Turner‘s “The Politics of Virtual Reality.”

* Richard Avedon

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As we celebrate skepticism, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that Nolan Bushnell (co-founder of video game pioneer Atari) opened the first Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre, ultimately a chain of family destinations that served pizza and other menu items, complemented by arcade games, amusement rides, and animatronic displays as a focus of entertainment (and often, birthday party celebration).  It took its name from its main animatronic character Chuck E. Cheese, a mouse who sang and interacted with guests.  Over 600 outlets are operating today in the U.S. and 17 other countries.

Chuck E. Cheese and Nolan Bushnell (Bushnell on right)

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“To explode or to implode… that is the question”*…

 

From Danish photographer Ken Hermann‘s series, “Explosions“; more mesmerizing mayhem here.

* “To explode or to implode – said Qfwfq – that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to expand one’s energies in space without restraint, or to crush them into a dense inner concentration.”
― Italo Calvino, The Distance of the Moon

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As we reflect on eruption, we might recall that it was on this date in 1637 (or nearabouts, as closely as scholars can say) that Cardinal Richelieu introduced the first table knives (knives with rounded edges)–reputedly to cure dinner guests of the unsavory habit of picking their teeth with the knife-points of the daggers that were, until then, used to cut meat at the table.  Years later, in 1669, King Louis XIV followed suit, forbidding pointed knives at his table; indeed, he extended the prohibition, banning pointed knives in the street in an attempt to reduce violence.

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Written by LW

May 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I’m so unfamiliar with the gym, I call it James”*…

 

These wonderful photographs, which make such innovative use of multiple exposure, are from a 1913 German book titled Schwedische Haus-Gymnastik nach dem System P.H. Ling’s by Theodor Bergquist, Director of the Swedish Gymnastic Institute in the Bavarian spa town of Bad Wörishofen. As the title tells us, this style of “Swedish house-gymnastics” demonstrated by Bergquist (and his mysterious female colleague) is based on a system developed by Pehr Henrik Ling (1776–1839), a pioneer in the teaching of physical education in Sweden. Inventor of various physical education apparatus including the box horse, wall bars, and beams, Ling is also credited with establishing calisthenics as a distinct discipline and is considered by some as the father of Swedish massage.

* Ellen DeGeneres

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As we affirm our faithfulness to fitness, we might spare a thought for Wilhelm Weber; he died on this date in 1963.  A German gymnast, he medaled twice for his country at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis.

The 1904 German Olympic team

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“Wherever there is light, one can photograph”*…

 

Three decades ago, as a graduate student at the San Francisco Art Institute, Mimi Plumb [see here] was wandering around Bernal Heights when she came across the site of a recent house fire. Plumb went inside to explore the building’s charred remains. She paused to photograph a blackened globe and a singed stack of telephone books. In the basement, she found snapshots of an unknown family, and in the bedroom, a burned lamp and dresser. The grim, soot-filled rooms would later remind her of her childhood during the Cuban missile crisis, when duck-and-cover drills occurred every few weeks. “My mother told me there might be a nuclear war,” Plumb says. “I would wake up in the middle of the night.”

The photos of the house were among the first that Plumb would take for her series Dark Days, which will be published this summer by TBW Books in a collection titled Landfall

After seven years of taking photos for the series, Plumb did the unthinkable: She packed the negatives into a box and didn’t look at them again. In some ways, she knew she had nothing more to add to the work, that she had adequately captured that feeling of imbalance. But there was also another reason. Plumb felt pressure as a female photographer to take more “palatable” images.

The series was tucked away until 2015, when Plumb, having retired from teaching black-and-white photography, began going through her archives. She was struck by how much the work — with its themes of nuclear anxiety and environmental decline — “runs eerily parallel to our current situation.”…

More on Plumb’s work at “Unearthed“; see more of the Dark Days series at her site

* Alfred Stieglitz

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As we ponder the pix, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that French physicists Louis Fizeau and Leon Foucault took the first photograph of the sun.  The daguerreotype was just 4.7 inches, but as National Geographic reported, still caught sunspots.

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Written by LW

April 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid”*…

 

Last Thanksgiving, I overheard my uncles talk about how women are better off cooking, taking care of the kitchen, and fulfilling “their womanly duties.” Although I know that not all men like my uncles think that way I was surprised to learn that some still do, so I went on to imagine a parallel universe, where roles are inverted and men are given a taste of their own sexist poison…

From Eli Rezkallah, a series of fictional images, recreated from real ads in the Mad Men era, that question modern day sexism: “In a parallel universe.

* George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?

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As we check our privilege, we might send path-setting birthday greetings to Kate Chopin; she was born on this date in 1850.  A writer of both short stories and novels, she was highly-regarded in her time and in the decades following her death (in 1904).  Probably best remembered today for her novel The Awakening, she is considered an important forerunner of American 20th-century feminist authors.

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Written by LW

February 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I can understand that a man might go to the gambling table – when he sees that all that lies between himself and death is his last crown”*…

 

Wheel of Fortune, Las Vegas, 1988

Thirty years ago, gambling in the US was limited to three destinations: Reno, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City. Jay Wolke photographed the ordinary people who played, lived and worked in the rapidly expanding cities.  Wolke was fascinated by the intersections of people, artifice, architecture and landscape in the US’s three gambling cities…

Girl in car, Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, 1989

Fortune Hunter, Las Vegas, 1988

See more at “Same dream another time: under the skin of 80s Vegas – in pictures” and at Wolke’s site.

* Honoré de Balzac, The Wild Ass’s Skin

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As we consider the odds, we might recall that it was on this date in 2000 that Cynthia Jay-Brennan won $34,959,458.56 on a Megabucks slot machine at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, the world’s largest payout; it was a one in 7 million chance.  A cocktail waitress at another casino, she had been a Desert Inn regular; on this occasion, she had “invested” $27 in the machine that paid off so handsomely.

Sadly. Jay-Brennan has become synonymous with the “Jackpot Jinx”: a few weeks after her huge haul, she and her sister were driving to a casino out of town when they were hit by a drunk driver, paralyzing her and killing her sister.

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Written by LW

January 26, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.”*…

 

Andrei Lacatusu, a self-taught digital artist from Rome, created this series of digital art called “Social Decay.”

Learn more at “Artist Imagines The Decay Of Social Media Companies“; see the full set at Lacatusu’s Behance page.

[TotH to the always-illuminating Pop Loser]

* Ernst Fischer

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As we contemplate a post-social media world, we might recall that it was on this date in 1996 that the first version of the Java programming language was released by Sun Microsystems; the language, created by James Gosling, had been in use in since 1995 as part of Sun’s Java Platform.  Its ability to “write once, run anywhere” made Java ideal for Internet-based applications.  As the popularity of the Internet soared, so did the usage of Java.

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Written by LW

January 23, 2018 at 1:01 am

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