People Who Work

Thirteen Year Old Sharecropper Boy Near Americus, Georgia, July, 1937

Part of the daily lineup outside the State Employment Service Office, Memphis, Tennessee, June 1938

Toward Los Angeles, California, 1937

Jobless on Edge of Pea Field, Imperial Valley, California, 1937

Crossroads Store, Person County, North Carolina, 1939

Migratory Cotton Picker, 1940

Dust Bowl Farm, June, 1938

Hoe Cutter, near Anniston, Alabama, 1936

Power farming displaces tenants, Texas Panhandle, 1938

Mississippi Delta Children, July, 1936

All Images © Dorothea Lange

A couple nights ago, I finally finished a book I’ve been reading for a while about Dorothea Lange called Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon.  Here’s a review I found on Conscientious if you want a little more background on the book.  The book was very good.  I could take this post in so many directions because the book made me think about so many different things…some having to do with being a woman, some having to do with having a family, and some having to do with being passionate about what we do with our lives.  I couldn’t help but notice that this book came out at the time when we as a country are/were experiencing the worst economic situation since The Great Depression.  Lange’s images, along with the other FSA photographers‘, are such an invaluable record of what the country went through.  It’s hard to imagine how bad it was back then, and their photographs give us a glimpse.  While reading this book, I pictured Ms. Lange traveling back and forth, back and forth, across the country several times, with one goal in mind…documentation.  The book speaks about her passionate captioning of her photographs (so I was sure to include them above even though that did take an extra ten minutes) and the time she took to talk with her subjects and get their story on record.  The book also speaks about the fact that all of this happened at the sacrifice of many relationships in Lange’s life, mainly those with her children.  I think I will probably need a completely separate post to discuss my feelings on that matter, but…well…I’ll leave that for another time because I think it warrants some thought and some words.

What I really wanted to get into today was the current Levi’s campaign and how it clearly is influenced and inspired from the FSA photography program as well as imagery from The Great Depression in general.

All Images © LEVI’S

I wonder what Walker Evans would think.  I wonder what Dorothea Lange would think.  Since she started her career as a more commercial photographer, making commissioned portraits of the bohemian elite in San Francisco, I wonder if she would get it or be appalled.  I wonder if fashion advertising can be taken seriously as a sociopolitical statement.  I mean, in my opinion, it’s no easy feat to make people look cool and make you want to buy jeans and make you think about how shitty things are all at the same time.  Clearly, the campaign is meant to be empowering to the “American Worker”, and I think it definitely looks good.  Would there ever be a government funded program like the FSA photography program again?  Probably not.  And if not, I guess we need to find other arenas to make statements (you can see some shorts on the Levi’s site focusing on a few individuals and their stories).  I’m not sure if Levi’s has the answer or not…it’s just interesting to see how things come back around, how imagery is appropriated, and what type of imagery might become the new “record”.

More on Dorothea Lange another time in the near future.  I do recommend the book if anyone wants an indepth look at an interesting person and excellent photographer.

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