… These images are eloquent about space: an unknown interior space that’s off-limits and a social space that’s charged by psychological dynamics …
Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):
… Those in the ghetto of Harlem were horribly overcrowded and gouged by white landlords who knew their tenants had nowhere else to go. “I remember,” said Gordon Parks, who was raised there, “swarms of slow moving people, moving close together up on Lenox Avenue — past the chili shacks, rib joints, funeral parlors and storefront churches — knowing one another but seldom bothering to speak. A city of blackness crammed inside a white city where, when you walked out the door, you became a stranger.”
… Siskind’s group (Harlem Document) refused to see Harlem residents as either heroic or dangerous; they come forward as aggrieved, resilient, dispirited, sensual, and quite frequently pious. The difference between media stereotypes and the content of this Harlem imagery is the difference between a determined projection of preconceived meaning and the observation of behavior and moods.
In this case, it was informed observation. The white, working-class photographers lived in run-down tenemants, as did their subjects. The picture takers, first generation offspring of Jewish immigrants, mingled with the children of recent black migrants from the South. Both sides knew displacement and prejudice, though obviously in different intensities.
[line break added] Of course, the presence of the camera implied the privileged mobility of those who used it, which may help to explain their sensitivity to the confinement of life in Harlem. Though the “document” certainly emerges as rhetorical in tone (the photographers wanted conditions changed for the better, after all), it’s nuanced in feeling.
Aaron Siskind, The Wishing Tree, 1937
… These images are eloquent about space: an unknown interior space that’s off-limits and a social space that’s charged by psychological dynamics, either between the subjects themselves or between them and the photographer.