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

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
The migrant families of Dorothea Lange and formal still lifes of Walker Evans are familiar images from the Farm Security Administration's (FSA) project to document rural America of the 1930s. Picturing Minnesota highlights a less-well-known group of FSA photographs taken in the North Central states. Photographers John Vachon (of St. Paul), Marion Post Wolcott, and Russell Lee were commissioned, in part, by Roy Stryker, head of the FSA project, to establish a balance between the more distressing imagery of the poor agrarian South. Breaking from most studies, Curtis (professor of history and director of the Winterthur Program, Univ. of Delaware) questions the ``truthfulness'' of the FSA collection, considering issues pertinent to documentary photography at large. To what extent can the photographer legitimately manipulate the image through selective framing, posing of subjects, or positioning of objects before documentary veracity is suspect? Can the intent or ``style'' of the photographer be divorced from the way we interpret the image? Assembling a visual history is fraught with philosophical pitfalls, yet Curtis has successfully explored many of them in relation to the FSA project. In both publications, the plates are of exceptional quality. Picturing Minnesota nicely augments the body of work from the FSA era and is highly recommended to large photo collections and where there is regional interest. Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth is an essential purchase for most libraries since it is an excellent resource for both history and photo collections.--Kathy J. Anderson, Onondaga Cty. Pub. Lib., Syracuse, N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780877228233
  • Publisher: Temple University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1992
  • Series: Critical Perspectives on the past Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 268
  • Product dimensions: 9.29 (w) x 10.31 (h) x 0.51 (d)

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