Visiting the Masters; Visiting History


Farm for sale. Willow Creek area. Malheur County, Oregon, by Dorthea Lange

Farm for sale. Willow Creek area. Malheur County, Oregon, by Dorthea Lange

Yale University and the Library of Congress have created an amazing website showcasing an archive of Depression-era photographs taken by some of the great photographers of the first half of the 20th Century. It’s called Photogrammar, and it hosts 170,000 photos made by photographers for the United States’ Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI).

The photo above is Dorthea Lange’s October 1939 shot of a “farm” – a patch of sagebrush desert, really – for sale in bone dry, achingly bleak Malheur County in eastern Oregon. The Farm Security Administration relocated dozens of families from the Dust Bowl to the Oregon high desert, providing them with a bit of water and not much more. It says something about conditions in the Dust Bowl that these folks, on arrival in Malheur County, didn’t turn around and go back.

WC is a big fan of Dorthea Lange, but this superb and slightly subversive photo is just one of tens of thousands of photos at the site by some of the best photographers of the day.

Squatters along highway near Bakersfield, California. Penniless refugees from dust bowl. Twenty-two in family, thirty-nine evictions, now encamped near Bakersfield without shelter, without water and looking for work in the cotton fields

Squatters along highway near Bakersfield, California. Penniless refugees from dust bowl. Twenty-two in family, thirty-nine evictions, now encamped near Bakersfield without shelter, without water and looking for work in the cotton fields

There are terrific photo navigation tools to give you good access to what might otherwise be an overwhelming number of shots.

About the only bad thing at Photogrammar is that you can spend immense amounts of time exploring the maps, photographs and photographers available there. Whether you view it as history lesson, art gallery, photography instruction or biography, it’s an amazing, troubling and thought-provoking look at our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ world. And a lesson we should never forget.

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2 thoughts on “Visiting the Masters; Visiting History

  1. WC

    Since you do not mention it in this piece, perhaps you are unaware that PBS recently featured Dorothea Lange (about two to three weeks ago) in a two-hour special. You should check that out. I think you would enjoy it greatly.

    She and her work will be featured soon in the Cooperstown, NY, museum, the Fenimore Art Museum, in a presentation that opens soon and runs for several months.
    http://www.fenimoreartmuseum.org/lange

    You will have to engage your wanderlust and travel to see it. But do check out the recent TV production that did an historical treatment of her life, including the “subversive” use of photography to make her points, as you mention in your piece.

    Paul Eaglin

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