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View Diary: Arthur Rothstein, Uncle Festus, and the New Deal (37 comments)

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  •  What an amazing bit of history, Garrett. (14+ / 0-)

    Thank you so much for the considerable effort that went into this.  And your wonderful writing.

    I was struck, early on, by your discussion about how a subject looks at an outsider/photographer.

    My father was a professional photographer, and member of the Photo League.  He spent much of his career shooting indigenous tribes in Latin America.  And the way they look at the camera -- something they'd never seen before -- is fascinating.

    Part of the fascination, for me (of course), is how clearly my father was able to put people at ease.  There are pictures of old men, young mothers, crowds of kids all looking intently but unwaveringly at the camera.  

    Paul Strand, who taught my father, once built a deceptive version of the camera that made it look like he was shooting what was in front of him, but actually had the lens and shutter to the side of it, so he caught photos of people watching him, ostensibly, photograph other things -- a truly candid moment when the subject had no idea they were the subject.

    Paul eventually abandoned the camera as a failure, because there was that missing dynamic in those photos of the subtle interplay between photographer and subject.  They had no heart, to him.

    As far as I know, and you may already know this, Rothstein and most of the Photo League photographers are collected at the Howard Greenburg Gallery in SoHo.

    •  Wow, Yasu (11+ / 0-)

      I've never heard of the "sideways camera" thing. That's pretty inventive.

      I've always liked Diane Arbus' pictures for that scary-intense look between subject and photographer.

      "Katrina was no puddle and this is not a leak." Inspired by Another American Lie

      by khowell on Sun Jun 20, 2010 at 08:47:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You discribe it perfectly. But I never could (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Garrett, khowell

        stand Arbus.  I felt a distinct lack of empathy in her work.  And her framing and lenses did nothing to help.  The distortion, the unreality of the angles... Just always made me feel like she was more a [whatever the opposite of mawkish is] voyeur than a documentarian or artist.

        (Sorry -- don't mean to disrespect your opinion in any way: just offering mine in return.  Not arguing.)  :)

    •  Rothstein theorized a fair amount (4+ / 0-)

      about "unobtrusive camera." He does in the first quote.

      There is a series of photos of two young women, one in Quaker plain dress, one in modern, walking by Grandma Hettie's white house, then past the men reading newspapers on the porch into the store.

      One thing to note in the photos is that they were bringing goods to the general store.

      I think that series might perhaps be part of the more distant "unobtrusive" approach, to get the porch photos here.

      photo 1
      photo 2
      photo 3

      •  Certainly seem to have been shot from some (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        distance away (not easy in those days).  Wonder if he was hidden, or used a hidden switch.

        Why would they bring goods to the GS?  Barter?  Were they suppliers?  Can't quite wrap my mind around that one, though I'm sure it's a quite simple answer.

        •  I think I'd call it just trade (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          less specifically than barter.

          I've seen a fair number of accounts, credits and debits in dollar amounts, for goods in both directions, and evened up with real money at some point.

          A local agricultural economy. General store / post office as a natural center.

          Post office location, Nethers and/or village of Old Rag further up, seems to have been something of a power struggle. It's good to have the post office for the store.

          Mary Hudson, Festus's wife and postmistress of Nethers, bringing in a regular government paycheck, likes it pretty well too.

          Young men wanting to start a farm would do farm labor.

          Young women wanting to start a farm could get it from a term as postmistress.

          Small farms are run capitalist. Not just requiring capital, I think.  

    •  Links to some photos? (6+ / 0-)

      I'm feeling a liveblog crew, in pretty close on subject interests her.

      And your father, yet.

      •  Um... that would give away my identity, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Garrett, khowell, WiddieDawg

        which I guard pretty closely.  ;)

        But if you'd like, I could send you a few.  Unfortunately the only ones I have on the computer are those that have shown up on the web -- none from Latin America.

        I'm actually trying (when I have time) to get some funding to organize and catalogue his work -- a murderous task as he kept few notes (almost none), depending on his and my mother's memories to identify places and times.  And what notes he did make are in such miserable handwriting that they're all but illegible.

        I have all my mother's old papers and calendars, plus some letters from him to her when he was on assignment: hoping to be able to create a timeline of assignments and locations.

        One of the things I need is a negative scanner for precisely this sort of occasion.  To mount pictures to the web.  Very frustrating.

        And, for a chuckle, I asked him near the end of his life (we didn't know that yet) if he would work with me while I catalogued his work -- he said, "Fuck it: do it when I'm dead."

        Still makes me laugh, but damn, I'm pissed.

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