Lewis Hine, March 1937. Scott’s Run, West Virginia. Johnson family, father unemployed.
This photograph by Lewis Hine doesn’t only strike me because of its excellence in composition and mastery of light, it although strikes me because of the specific way Hine used the frame to create a mother and child narrative that invites the viewer to react with a specific kind of empathy for what the viewer means to read in the picture. Hine`s picture is the perfect example for photographs in which the narrative of the photograph is not created in or by the picture itself but by implanted presets of morals, and values which are transfered onto the image by the viewer.
The photographs in the following set of pictures attempt to cause a specific kind of empathy as they will show that their narrative and the emotional context in which they operate is created through the fact that the subject matter is a woman, shown with her children in a specific way.
Would we replace the woman in the following photographs with the body of a man, the narrative we would create from the following pictures would be completely different.
TAOTC, Recreation of the same a Lewis Hine photograph with a male person.
The way in which the viewer seems to read Lewis Hine`s and similar photographs results from their reference to each other and to other existing and historical mother and child imagery. The suffering mother with child is repeatedly shown in a similar way, which is linking the suffering to the mothers woumaness. This kind of imagery and presentation is although existing in painting, cinema and literature. The context of similar imagery, pre-imagery and implanted pictures transfer Lewis Hine`s and similar photographs into alternates and monuments for the suffering mother in general.
Example: Heinrich Zille: “Das eiserne Kreuz” [Heinrich Zille, “The iron cross”, 1916] The fallen father received the iron cross, but the mother with her four children suffers by the threatening of poverty and and an uncertain future.
Pictures like the photograph of Lewis Hine don`t function because they would have the ability to tell a complex story of individual suffering or because they portrait a singular person or situation by themselves as photographs. They function because of their reference to pre-imagery and implanted morals, related to the subject of the suffering mother which is linked to an assumed misbehavior of the male partner who doesn’t fulfill his cultural expected role as protector of his family and his wife. These photographs play with the paradox of actual absence but psychological presence of the childrens father in the photograph at the same time.
With his work Lewis Hine wanted to draw attention to the subhuman living conditions of poor women and people from the working class. In other words his picture of the mother in West Virginia was never supposed to function as a singular portrait of only this one woman shown in the photograph. But, (and this the main paradox): the photograph functions only because the viewer is pushed to identify with the singular shown mother in the image. Thus those kind of photographs that look like portraits of singular woman`s suffer become to a symbol for the suffering mother and male misbehavior in general.
In this way, these kind of photographs can be seen as paradoxical and desperate pictures themselves, as they need the viewers identification with the mother from which we don`t really know anything. They need text and sublines to be understood in a context that gives them their value. Their sublines and titles are like accomplices which are distracting from the surfaceness of the photographs narrative and from the fact that the mother in the photograph can only be a symbol.
In fact these kind of photographs live from their context as part of the pictorial and psychological monument of the suffering mother with child. They live from their black and whiteness, the light settings, the repeated presentation of the woman in relatively near distance to one or more children in protective gesture. Often the mother is presented sitting or standing in relationship to their house or belongings. The facial expressions of mothers and children, the rooms or surroundings with all their furniture and items become to symbols that the viewer is trying to read to get deeper into the woman`s emotions and in hope of more information about her situation and to find deeper identification or understanding to her emotions.
We understand the symbolic of the oven and the far away table in the second room of Lewis Hine´s picture as cultural objects and as symbols for unsatisfied human needs for food and warmth. We are willing to read the women`s facial expressions as symbols for disappointment and desire of a warmth that doesn’t only come from the empty pans and the cold oven.
Our cultural morals and values seem to invite the viewer to read and to feel about this photographs in a specific way, which is the similar to the emotions we seem to be supposed to feel when standing in front of a monument. The photographs start to feel empty to me, once the surfaceness of their narrative is exposed. But nevertheless and in their paradox way I still believe with persistence in the importance of these pictures existence, in relation to the time they were taken and as a visual and emotional tool to draw attention to the mis-circumstances in this world and the existing subject of violence and suffering behind the symbolic imagery. These pictures are important, even if it`s not the photographs directly as object themselves that have the ability tos cause a change.
Jacob Riis, “Italian Mother and Baby, Ragpicker, New York,” ca. 1889-1890.
In Jacob Riis` photograph the woman is sitting in a room with confusing symbolic. Does she really live in that room? Where does the hat behind her on the wall come from? Is this a male hat? What is the role of the babies father and where is he? Similar to Lewis Hine`s picture the room and its objects become to symbols we want to read in hope to learn more about the individual woman and the meaning of the situation. I wonder if Jacob Riis has asked her to sit in a chair for this portrait and if he asked her to look away from the camera or if it just happened? How did Lewis Hine get his picture? And do the circumstances of the portraits really matter? They do, if we want to talk about the impact of how mother and child are represented through photographs in a repeated and similar way.
Werner Bischof HUNGARY. Hajduhadhaza. 1947
In Bischofs photograph the camera doesn`t feel empathetic as in Lewis Hines image. The camera feels threatening and objectifying even more as it does in Riis“ photograph. Similar as in Hine`s picture the surrounding room is only indicated in the frame. The dark space surrounding the family feels so uncomfortable that the viewer doesn`t want to see what the room looks like outside of the frame. The woman in the picture is out of focus but we can still vague the mimic of her face. In all photographs of this set the body gestures and facial expressions play an important role in creating the narrative. We are willing to read them as slightly different stories in a similar context of the suggestion of female suffering relate to male behavior. The gesture of protection plays an important role. In this photograph the family builds a triangle, different to Lewis Hines and Riis photographs in which the children are directly hold in the mothers arm.
Ben Shahn, A family of a Resettlement Administration client in the doorway of their home, Boone County, Arkansas, October 1935 by Ben Shahn.
The gesture of uncomfortness
In Ben Shahan`s photography the woman is although photographed in protecting relationship to her children and in relationship to what the viewer is identifying as her home. The home is reduced to a wooden stage and the interpretations the viewer can make are mostly based on the facial expressions and gestures of uncomfortness against the camera which seems to be very near and threatening to the woman.
The gesture of uncomfortness against the camera although plays an important role in the photographs of Lewis Hine, Jacob Riis, Werner Bischof and the following photograph by Russel Lee.
Russel Lee, Mrs. Paul Rauhauser and two of her seven children in their home at Ruthven, Iowa, 1936
Where is Mister Rauhauser?
Similar to the women in the pictures of Hine and Riis, Mrs. Rauhauser is placed sitting in front of the camera with her children. Although the home is more indicated in the frame. This picture makes it most obvious how much the photographs in this set play with the surroundings and items around the women in the frames. The surroundings function as evidence and explanations for the situation. The bedsheets and dolls let us assume that this womans living conditions might have been much better then the living conditions of the women in the other photographs, but we don`t know it. The photograph must be read different because of the better interior but still in the same context of the suffering mother with child. The way she is sitting in the frame with her children is similar and although here is the play with the facial expressions. She looks unhappy and there is although her uncomfortness against the camera.
Arthur Rothstein, Interior of the old Pettway home, Alabama 1937
In Rothstein`s photograph the presence of the male person and the persons behind him makes the subject of the suffering mother more complex. He is sitting in a much higher chair then her. The way she is sitting and holding her children protectively looks very similar to the woman in Hines photograph. All the facial expressions are very serious. The woman seems to look down while the man is directly looking at her. There is a distance between them which shouldn`t allow it to speak to each other in a normal tone. The wide angle of the camera makes this feeling of distance between both even stronger. She looks isolated against the group oft he man, older woman and child, which all seem to look concerned about her in different ways. Does she look ashamed or angry? The situation is unclear, because the facial expressions are ambiguous. That is what makes the photograph fascinating and different from the earlier photographs of Riis, Lee and Hine.
Jürgen Heinemann, Arbeiterfamilie in Maracaibo, Venezuela, 1969
Jürgen Heinemann`s very strong photograph becomes fascinating as it seems to be most obvious evidence for the pre-imagery we have all in our heads in different ways. This picture seems to portrait all our cultural and cinematic knowledge related to the subject of the suffering mother in this one photograph. His brilliance with the play of light and shadow in the room is very symbolic and similar to the brilliant symbolic of the light on the table and oven in Lewis Hines picture.
The woman is anxiously pressed in the corner while she is looking on her man. He stands with the back to her. His figure is only is only a dark shadow and he looks like a dark statue. By this presentation the man becomes to a monster in the head of the viewer. The presentation of the man recognizes to cinematic imagery of the threatening male at home. By his posture and the white cross on the wall in his back,the picture becomes symbolic for the subject of the suffering mother, who is keeping distance from him, pulling her children into her body, the young girl cannot look at the father or man and the young boy does it while covering under his mothers dress.
Milton Rogovin, Lower West Side, 1972-1977
Rogovin his photograph from the Lower West Side (taken between 1972-77) looks different from the photographs we have seen in this set of images before. It seems to tell a slightly different story about mother and child as it is missing the uncomfortness of the woman against the camera. This woman looks self-confident and friendly into it and her son seems to look curious about the camera. The gesture between her and her son seems less protective. The arms and posture of mother and son in the room suggest a rather trustful and relaxed atmosphere. But it stays the question about the role of the child`s father and the similarity to the other photographs by the way the mother is presented sitting in relationship with her child and symbolic items in between the indicated home.
Eugene W. Smith,Tomoko in Her Bath, Mother and daughter with Minamata Disease, Japan
Eugene Smith`s photograph from Tomoko Uemura who is bathing her daughter, who has the Minamata Disease is although missing the uncomfortness of mother and child against the camera. The room is dark, and we can only see Tomoko Uemura and her daughter in the indicated bathroom. The usual indication of the home with the woman surrounded by walls and personal items is missing in this photograph. The symbols, facial expressions and indications that typically suggest a threatening husband are missing this photograph. The viewer might wonder about the role of the child`s father, but doesn`t feel any uncomfortness about the situation, as the light and the facial expressions between mother and the daughter seem friendly and trustful to each other and agreeing to the presence of the camera. In this image the protective gesture is empathic not desperate but a necessary one, as the daughter could not bath herself alone.
Sebastiao Salgado,Refugee camp at Benako, Tanzania, 1994.
In Sebastião Salgado´s photograph of mother and child in a refugee camp in Tanzania the facial expressions are similar as in Bischof`s photograph almost invisible and can only be vaguer. The mother is sitting like an instance in front of all the chaos of the refugee camp but she seems to be calm and not uncomfort while she is playing with the baby in her arms. Her hopeful and self confident posture feels confusing against the chaotic surrounding — and against our cultural knowledge of the horror of refugeeness and refugee camps. This narrative feels surprising and makes the woman appear very brave.
Stephen shames, Tabernacle Church in Venice, California., 1999
Stephen Shames photograph of mother and child shows them in a Californian church where the homeless people are coming to sleep at night. The church is only indicated by the typical wooden benches. The narrative feels like the symbol for modern family dramas, which might be still the same then before 1950. Like the other photographs it is an important but paradox tool to draw attentions to the mis-circumstances of poverty, homelessness and violence against women and children.
This article may have criticized and analyzed the representation of woman and children in a specific way. The photographs as a group show, that the pictures need text and sublines and they can only give very limited information about the individual situation or woman by themselves. Thus they can only function as a symbol. But they are important, even in their symbolic, as they show us, that we are still dealing with the same mis-circumstances in our world, even if the meaning of family has changed dramatically between 1880 and today.
TAOTC,Young mother with Child, East River Ferry, Greenpoint New York December 2013.
In this commentary the child is pressed in the mother her arm. Although her facial expression is not clearly visible. The back light in her hair and the colorful clothes isolate her from the background and make the scene appear more dramatic. The title is placed to opens doors for assumptions. I used a doll instead of a person to separate the narrative from the assumption that it could tell anything about an existing person, so that the elements that create the assumption of a suffering mother in a photograph get more visible.
Hi and welcome to the association line drawn from Zoe Strauss image “Camden Mattes”. From the following images you guys have the privilege to read my mind. Welcome to the show “the cerebral cortex of Anna Ekros”!
Brassaï – The Balloon Merchant, 1931
It strikes me, the expression of happiness of the boy. He becomes a symbol for both the hope of growing, a curiosity and a fascination for life as well as a message about seeing what you have instead of what you don’t have. The woman in the background are trading something, the man beside the little boy is selling balloons from the cluster in his hands, both actions to evolve. The boy is happy with what he has, standing tall and proud as the tree behind him.
Antoni Anatol Weclaswki “Golden Streams”, Warsaw, 1928-1937
Blessed children, they are being seen, watched over. They play in the light that they have, controlled by old men in frames, but seen by a greater power. Centered and exposed on the pictureplane they play, focused on what is important in their life, rather then what anyone else think is important.
Pippilotti Rist from the video “Atmosphere and Instinct”, a video of a girl whatched from a bird angle, her life is covered in beautiful colors but she wants to be upliftedfrom the world she´s in. In comparison to the book Moby Dick the girl in this picture can be seen as the captain, Ahab, wanting something more, craving an action to be satisfied and the children in “golden streams” are more like Ismael, seeing what there is to see, using it to understand, to get enlightened.
Lars Tunbjörk from his book “country beside itself” (Landet utom sig)
The man longing to fly away in the tube of caviar maybe to a place where he can find palms trees like the ones on his shorts, a beautiful planet where everyone is eating Kalles Kaviar where your skin doesn’t turn pink from the sun, but shimmers in gold.
Tove Jansson – from the book “the dangerous trip” (den farliga reason)
Every caracter in this drawing has their own role, their own wishes and hopes, but they are still together. In harmony and disharmony they find a way to accept each other, an acceptance of the people they have around them and an allowance of differences in moods, fears and curiosities.
Anders Petersen – From the book “Soho”
The girls stand so close together, just like the madrases in “Camden Mattes”, united by their beauty, their curiosity, their hopes and excitement.
Jean Moral – “Portrait #17”. Original vintage photogravure, 1931
To give the dove a kiss and then send it away, to love and let go, to release, put your hands in your lap and let faith do what it does.
Lewis Hine Man on girders, Empire State Building, c. 1931 From Collection of George Eastman House, Rochester
The infinite trust in the construction, the only way of staying alive.
A man carrying a rubber giraffe made by Clifford Martin Ltd for the British Industries Fair. 1935 Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images/Hulton Arch
This image is talking about the choise to bring beauty and excitement into life – its a foggy day somewhere in England but the man in the center of the image has found a way to bring an exotic animal to whatever event he’s heading to. The policeman on the right helping him carry his illusion on his way over the street. Or is it an illusion, maybe what we see is the only truth we have? Am I allowed to say anything about this man and how he interprets the world when my truth is another one than his for the simple reason that my eyes are in my face and not in his? Can we ever be anything else then subjective and then can we ever judge anyones actions and choises based on the conclusions from another point of view?
Niki de Saint Phalle – “Un Reve plus long que la Nuit” – a part of the film with the same name
How beauty and ugliness go together, that theres roses and monsters right next to each other, the moon is a different moon according to what you want to see, the bird is flying or falling, the ballerina is light or heavy, the roses are pink or black, you choose the way you look at your world.
And this is my own piece, in association of the Zoe Strauss image “Camden mattes”.
WaWa Parking Lot (2008)
Otto Umbehr (Umbo)
Ruth Spinne, 1927
One would think that this photo is merely a broken mirrored image of a young woman. The perspective appears to be straight forward. Her gaze is looking directly back at the lens which seems it could be set squarely in front of her. Eventually, the viewer is left to ask, if this is a mirrored image where is the camera? German Photographer, Otto Umbehr or Umbo, (1902–1980) uses careful composition, shifted perspective and cropping to create a slightly false description of what is actually presented in the frame.
Otto Umbehr (Umbo)
Mystery of the Street, 1928
A man whose back is parallel to the bottom frame sweeps clumps of dust upwardly mimicking the direction of the diagonal separator. The lighter right side, the sidewalk, is textured. A band of bumpy gravel travels along the right of the curbside from the bottom right of the image nearly up to the left corner where it meets a black triangle area. There is a stack of bricks interrupting it’s stretch. Two rows of smooth rectangular blocks of concrete form the upper right portion of the frame. The right corner of the image is bordered in darkness. There is a parent and child on the sidewalk walking upwards to the left. Umbo shot this from over head capturing the shadows that were casted. The shadows in this image provide more information than the actual figures themselves. The most we see of the sweeper is the top of his head, his light shirt, right leg, the broom he pushes and both his arms. His shadow reveals his second leg, his hat and the triangular formation his body and broom makes as he sweeps. The parent and child are also revealed through their shadows. From the top, their bodies pretty much blend into the sidewalk because of the similar tones. Nothing is truly distinguishable. Looking at the shadows, we see a young boy in shorts on the left holding hands with his father. The dad wears a light colored flat hat and carries a thin, rectangular object. It could be a briefcase. The child is also hold something in his hand. The object is small in comparison to his little body but it must be fairly big in order for it’s shadow to be seen from so far above.
Valencia, Spain, 1933
Henri Cartier-Bresson steps inside a bullring in Spain and points his camera outwardly. At first glance, our mind sees two men the number 7 encircled and rectangular openings. But the essence of this photo is that even though elements are repeated they are actually broken and incomplete. Their existence is confirmed by the representation of the other. The left door is completed by the right side door which is spilt by being open. The numbered ring of colors starts on the left door and is barely legible. It is not until we look upon the right door that we concluded that the encircled number is 7. The opened door reveals a man in uniform who is turned away looking through dark cut out rectangles. The head and shoulders of another uniformed man is framed by a light rectangular cut-out. His body-less face completes and is completed by the faceless man in the background. The blown out lens of the guard’s glasses mimics the white circle around the painted 7 on the door.
This black and white photo of Minor White’s looks rather abstract. Most of the frame is overtaken by high-key, organic, wrinkly shapes that are interrupted by three flat black shapes. It could be ripped aluminum foil with big holes. It is the angry tide coming into the frame diagonally from the top right that reveals the image to be the ocean, the Pacific, the title suggests. The direction of the waves pushes the eye back down the frame to inform us that the somewhat circular white object at the top of the middle black shape is the reflection of the moon. Minor White tilted his lens down probably from high above a cliff to capture the ocean from a unique perspective.
Cobweb in Rain, 1948
Unfortunately, this is not the best reproduction of Paul Strand’s Cobweb in Rain. What is seen here are wild flowers, strands of grass and a big clump of white dots, water drops suspended. The true beauty of the photo is revealed on the edges of the clump near the top of the frame. A dense cobweb cascades vertically, entangled with leaves. The cobwebs lightly cover the center flower almost mimicking a small waterfall.
Sun and Shade, 1952
Roy DeCarava’s Sun and shade is a black and white image in which the majority of the frame is shade. A young boy is seen from above playing on the sunny portion of the frame. Upon close inspection, the boy holds something in each hand. In his left hand there is something circular, kind of wide, maybe a can or small box. He holds something in his right, maybe a stick to beat his makeshift drum. DeCarava catches the boy between beats as the thin beating instrument points down to the right of the boy towards a second boy, hidden in the shade. The boy in the shade has his arms outstretched and one leg behind him. He’s chasing the first boy.
Buzios, Brazil, 1990
At first one sees a bunch of legs. Two on the left belong to a horse. There are about 14 legs total. The legs in beach wear stand on asphalt not sand. There is a small boat in the background. The brown muscular legs of the horse blend in well with the lean human bodies surrounding them especially in comparison to the thick, chubby leg on the far right of the frame. Most of the feet and legs point right. The right knee of the man in the center directs the eye towards the full circular bum of a woman who is caught mid-step. She looks as if she were about to trot out of the image.
3212b is a part of Todd Hido’s Landscape series which includes several images taken from inside of Hido’s car. On this wet snowy morning, Hido captures the sunrise over a sparsely, wooded area with what seems to be basketball hoops off in a distance. Water streaks down the car window creating a dream state out of this landscape. Because of Hido’s tight crop, eliminating any evidence of his car, the window frame or his side mirror -which can be seen in other images from the series- the viewer is allowed to enjoy the dreamy, other worldliness of the image.
View of Rome from the Spanish Academy, 2010
Abelardo Morell is known for his work with life sized camera obscuras, often projecting mostly urban landscapes on to the walls of a room. For this image, Morell used a tent. The rooftops and skyline of Rome project onto the brick ground of the tent. The spilled water from a hose interrupts the frame at top center and informs us that we are looking down not out.
453 West 17th Street, 2012
Zoe Leonard also uses a room as a camera obscura, transforming it’s blank walls and floor into a distorted landscape. The windows and lines of a building are stretched and fold where the room’s floor and wall meet. The tree at the top center of the frame shows us the image is inverted. By following the point of the black triangle in the left corner across the room above the fold, an electric outlet can be seen breaking out of one of the building’s light blue windows.
Kimberly J. Wade
This image is covered with white O’s. It is a uniform cascade of dried rain droplets on a train car window. Underneath the dancing columns of white O’s, someone can be seen sitting in the car across the platform in the far left. There are people standing in the middle of the frame. A gray shape can faintly be seen, maybe as a messenger bag slung over the shoulder of the person in the blue coat. But it is a reflection of my gray scarf. And slightly above the gray scarf is my thumb layered over my fuchsia and black cell phone case.
1) The workplace environment
2) A worker’s relationship to their work, and conversely, leisure time, or lack thereof.
3) The convergence of machine with human form/fetishizing machinery
Below are 10 examples of photography that also address these points.
A miner at work in the US at a time of Westward expansion. This was after the Industrial Revolution, but America was still a very fresh nation with uncharted territory. Did O’Sullivan ask this miner to pose for him, given the slow nature of cameras at the time? Regardless of what took place when the photo was taken, the image shows a man knocking down obstacles in his path, most certainly for the sake of something bigger than himself.
Emerson’s photographs were disregarded by some for appearing overly romantic and idyllic, but I’m throwing this image into the mix as a way to see work as a subject matter itself for both artistic as well as more direct issues of labor.
Gilbreth is known for his long exposures that utilized a method of “painting” with light. His studies of workers using machines were heightened into the “future,” where the functionality of the machines were usurped by the dazzling motion created by a pencil-thin light source. Notice how the halo above the worker creates a comic book-like “thought bubble.”
Here we see a group of women working in 1916, posing for the camerperson in the midst of their work. The women are posed with dignity, in the midst of work. There is a relationship between the workers and their machines–they both need each other.
Hannah Hoch’s collage illustrates the dizzying relationship between humanity’s technological progress and the dangers of moving too fast. Clearly a reaction to the utter destruction of WWI. Sort of reminds me of a Modernist version of Ryan Treycartin’s world.
One of the many iconic photos by Salgado, whose work encompasses universal depravities such as our destruction of the environment, war, and slavery. I chose this photo because it is not only mesmerizing, but overt in it’s statement of man being overpowered by his machine.
We can feel the tediousness of the task at hand here in Jeff Wall’s picture of a modern day Sisyphus. Unlike some of the images above, the blue collar worker here is in a smaller setting, a mechanic shop, as opposed to a larger factory containing hundreds of laborers working toward something large. We see his endless task spilled before him, yet his age and expression raise questions about the hierarchy of power in this place where a younger worker stands in the background. Who is the boss here?
Darin Mickey’s twist on blue collar workers. Today more and more white collar workers populate the workplace, with factories closing down and skilled laborers now out of work. Whether it’s feeding rubber molds into a machine in 1936, or filling out spreadsheets on a computer in the 21st century, work is still work.
Contrary to Mickey’s photograph of an American office worker, here we see a room filled with Chinese workers. Factory work has been exported to countries with workforces that will work longer hours for smaller paychecks. Unlike the photograph of the woman working in a factory in 1916, who faces the camera with a smile, these women stare at the lens with tired faces, with their bodies turned toward the work at hand.The future is here! A two man team with no overseer in sight, programming robots. The graceful points of contact between the man and his workstation are tender, yet the prospect of what this robot will become is a foreseeable image.
This video is a recreation of the original Lewis Hine image. In this case an office worker performs a typical office joke (think: stapler in jello), yet her expression and business-like demeanor questions the fun of the act. Is the joke the work?
Zoe Strauss: 10 Years is currently on view at the ICP Museum. Strauss’s work consists of impromptu portraits and photographs of houses and signage which comment on the economic hardships of residents in her community and around the United States. Throughout the exhibit Strauss creates layers of meaning which cause the viewers to double-take. Initially the images seem easily read, but upon second glance the audience will see the essence of the photograph. One major theme that repeats is the idea of finding beauty in ugliness.
Of her work on display, I respond most to Equitable, 2005 and this image was the inspiration for the following online curation On Second Thought.
Zoe Strauss, Equitable, 2005, 2005
I chose to include this one of Atget’s because I liked the repetition of windows with this image and Equitable, 2005. The above image is looking out to the idea of equality, below we are looking in on fine menswear that acts as an equalizer, but only if you have the finances to access those articles of clothing.
Eugène Atget, Magasin (Menswear Shop Window), Avenue des Gobelins, 1926
When I first saw the following image, I almost skipped over it in the museum. Both the photographer and worker are able to find the beauty in this precarious situation. Our worker has an extremely difficult job and risks his life every day, however, he does get to touch the sky and buildings.
Lewis Hine, Empire State Building Construction Worker Touching the Top of the Chrysler Building, 1930
Migrant mother also evokes the idea of finding beauty in the darkness. It is her strength and resolve that keeps her family together, even in the face of the Great Depression. She is weathered but more than capable of the task at hand.
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936
While looking at the different iterations of the following photograph from Walker Evans I decided to show both side by side. Seeing the two displayed together comments on how important choosing the right image is. By right I mean the image that gets the artist’s intent across. The image that we typically see is of a more stoic sitter and our hearts go out to her because she stares the Great Depression in the face with strength in her eyes.
Walker Evans, Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama, 1936
Weegee’s NEW YORK IS A FRIENDLY TOWN, is a really great match for Equitable, 2005 in that the letters themselves convey positive messages, yet how the letters appear have a negative connotation. In Equitable, 2005 the letters are missing parts of illumination and in NEW YORK IS A FRIENDLY TOWN the text’s faint repetition seems foreboding in a way.
Weegee, NEW YORK IS A FRIENDLY TOWN, 1945
In the same vein as the Walker Evans photographs I decided to feature the contact sheet containing Child With Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City, USA from Diane Arbus. The artist’s choice is even more apparent in this work. When one looks at each negative they can see that the now famous image is the best choice out of the shots taken. It’s clearly her style and creates the most empathy from the audience.
Diane Arbus, Child With Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City, USA, 1962
In this image Kenneth Josephson is claiming the area inside the mat window as art simply because he has framed it inside that mat. The area framed isn’t anything particular special, just the paint that signifies where cars can pull up to at a red light. One could even say that the line is ugly, but Josephson has made it beautiful by raising it to the status of art.
Kenneth Josephson, L.A., 1982
Rogger Ballen’s Diamond Digger and Son Standing on Bed, Western Transvaal is the closest image to the rest of the work by Strauss. The mother and son stand on a bed in a disheveled room and seem to be part of a meager socioeconomic class. They each present an image as if it is their one prized possession. Out of all the images in this set this is the one that truly embodies Strauss’s search for the beauty in the ugly.
This piece by Nikita Gale talks about sex and love, but because of the language used could be read as much harsher and “uglier”. However, since the piece starts at FUCK and ends at LOVE it finds the beauty in the “ugliness”. It’s not completely sweet, both in the how the letters are printed on the page and the use of all capital letters, but neither is Strauss’s work too sweet.
Nikita Gale, Modern Romance, 2010
And last but not least I wanted to include my own image of the Equitable building. This image has a more overt negativity to it, but the hidden beauty is all in the lines throughout the photograph. Although the word itself has that negative connotation ascribed to it the form of the photograph is comforting and the shapes that are made make this somewhat dismal picture more pleasing.
Beau Torres, quitable, 2010
This gallery was inspired by Zoe Strauss’ “Mattress Flip” – where vivacious children re-appropriate a stack of dilapidated mattresses into a trampoline – transforming this macabre urban landscape into their joyful playground.
Starting with the intended purpose of a mattress – which is to serve as rejuvenating space to rest the body – the following images investigate the transformative nature of this object and the spaces that it creates.
Shared communal space.
A Staging Ground.
Shared Intimate Space.
The Space Below.
Sleep | This fundamental function of a mattress is to provide a comfortable place to sleep.
Work | Fully equipped with a typewriter and files strewn over its surface, the mattress now becomes an office. If it weren’t for the wide angle of this shot revealing the ruffled comforter, the nightstand, the half naked doll and other bedroom oddities, the viewer would be none the wiser.
Birth | As the mother caresses her newborn, heads drawn together and her eyes closed, the viewer can’t help but feel the immense joy emanating from her soul. The mattress not only provides a platform for conception, but also offers a space for children to be brought into this world.
Death | From cradle to grave, the mattress serves as a space to care for one another.
Sex | We fulfill our primal needs here.
Protest | The mattress – in this circumstance – creates a space for social justice.
Entertainment | The mattress can transform into a space for both voyeurism and exhibitionism.
A Staging Ground | The mattress subsequently becomes a staging ground not just for the mundane daily events that occur in our lives, but also the momentous ones – such as the wedding day depicted here.
Shared Intimate Space & Shared communal space | The intended occupancy of the mattress was either single or double. Economic hardships resulted in this family living in a one-room apartment, therefore breaking the traditional confines of this intimate space – and altering it into a shared, communal one.
The Space Below | Due to the elevated nature of the mattresses, you will find empty space below. This can be a space used for storage or simply to hide.