Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth: FSA Photography Reconsidered

James Curtis, Author
James Curtis, Author Temple University Press $34.95 (139p) ISBN 978-0-87722-627-7
Reviewed on: 11/28/1989
Release date: 12/01/1989
Four photographers who worked with the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s--Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee--were instrumental in making Americans aware of the depths of rural poverty during the Depression. Yet the realism of their images and their impact, according to University of Delaware historian Curtis, were often achieved by deliberate calculation. Evans, the author shows, superimposed his love of symmetry and neatness on Alabama sharecroppers. Lange, he claims, reduced the size of the sprawling family in her Migrant Mother series to suit prevailing middle-class norms. Rothstein, we learn, staged key shots to dramatize the plight of Dust Bowl farmers. Lee transformed the tiny outpost of Pie Town, N. M., into a symbol of the last frontier. Curtis's brilliant, revolutionary study of 82 photos probes a central paradox: documentary photography at times derives its power from artful manipulation. (Dec.)
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