Unreal Nature

December 31, 2014

The Anonymous

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

… they … contributed to a movement that durably influenced contemporary aesthetics.

This is from the essay ‘The FSA‘s Documentary Style: From Reportage to Vision’ by Gilles Mora found in FSA: The American Vision (2006):

… In keeping with his administration’s avowed goals, Stryker asked his photographers to “recognize the pertinent thing in a particular situation” and make it clearly visible. The FSA photographer was free to do as he or she wished in attaining that objective. Original methods and responses were practically guaranteed by the photographers’ mixed bag of artistic disciplines (painting and photography in the case of Shahn and Delano), prior professional experiences (Lange and Evans), or, in some instances, the lack of any photographic background at all.

Echoing their abandonment of particular stylistic effects, the FSA photographers elevated the anonymous, recording a wide range of anonymous subjects, characters, actions, and places. In so doing they and other politically committed artists of the Great Depression contributed to a movement that durably influenced contemporary aesthetics. In literature (John Dos Passos, Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck) as in painting (Edward Hopper, Thomas Benton), the protagonist of 1930s American art was an anonymous figure. He was not a “man without qualities” in the existential sense Robert Musil described in his novel by that name, but a common man, wholly removed from celebrity or social extravagance, either of which would have singularized him. This protagonist was the antithesis of the heroes created during the previous decade by writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and by Hollywood.

Lee_Conversation
Russell Lee, Conversation at the General Store, near Jeanerette, Louisiana, 1938 [image from Wikipedia]

… An in-depth study of American documentary photography of the 1930s — in which the FSA played a key role — would help distinguish those photographers who had a genuine vision from those who had merely a good eye and those who were only doing their job. It would provide a better understanding of the growing importance, beyond commissioned pieces, of the rise of the documentary style that was first delivered by Walker Evans and is rich with the ambiguities found at the intersection of art and document. The documentary style progressively came to influence all American photography and to this day remains its unrivaled model.

My previous post from Mora’s essay is here.

-Julie

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