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Colin Graham
01-26-2007, 11:47 PM
Every time I look through my Lange book I stop at this shot. The irony is that while she's my favorite photographer, I dislike portrait photography only a little less than candid photography. (I know, it's journalism) That her work subverts my distrust of the medium isn't altogether fantastic. But it does make me wonder about the safe avenues I plod down in my own work. This shot isnt about tonality or sharpness or luminosity or all the things I strive for in my own work, yet it devastates anything I'll ever create. This picture amazes me and yet I know I could never take this picture. The woman is sagging in her own cameo frame, barely propped up by her own clenched hand, possibly the worst day she will ever know. How could I hope to meet this woman's stare? No matter how sympathetic the eye, Lange's work always seems latently confrontational, like simple yet unavoidable physical law.

Bill Hahn
01-27-2007, 08:00 PM
"End of an era in a small valley town".

Lange was fearless, and probably (like most great photographers) ruthless when it came to capturing an image. If you can find the movie "Dorothea Lange, A Visual Life" by Meg Cunningham, I highly recommend it.

But the title plays a role in our (sorry, my) reaction to the picture. Without the title, would we know that this is a funeral, and why is it the end of an era? But even without this knowledge I would find it a compelling picture....

Colin Graham
01-27-2007, 11:59 PM
Fearlessness...ruthlessness, not things that normally leap to mind when describing artist, but essential traits nonetheless and it's always good to see the whole motive.

Thanks for completing the title. I'm not sure why I didn't include the whole title. I'm a bit puzzled by it, and maybe frustrated too because it makes me want to know more about a story that I understand only a slice of.

And thanks for the movie recommendation, I'll keep an eye out for it.

copake_ham
01-28-2007, 12:18 AM
I did a bit of a Google search on the title.

All I can find out is that is was taken ca. 1938 in CA.

As I look again at the hearse - it may be horse-drawn. Notice that the doors are hinged on the right like a carriage.

But why the "valley" reference? Central Valley perhaps and therefore a reference to the Okies? But would a dust bowl refugee have been able to afford a hearse?

Or was this a "native Californian" mourning not just a personal loss but the loss of a simpler, pre-Depression, pre-Okie way of life?

Bill Hahn
01-29-2007, 07:26 AM
You can find some more information about this photo in the following
interview (look for "Lange" once you get there).

http://www.photowings.org/pages/index.php?pgA73

Basically, John Szarkowski found out that the words "end of an era" was more of a personal observation by Lange for the widow in the photo (her husband is dead and it's the end of her life as she knew it) , and not a social observation. Then Szarkowski makes the comment about how malleable photos are, and how the makers frequently try to nail down the possible interpretations with titles, text etc.

-Bill

catem
01-29-2007, 09:32 AM
I think 'end of an era' is a good title. Whatever the woman is feeling (and how can we assume exactly what she's feeling) it will be the end of a phase.

I find her look very powerful - asking us why we are looking at her, but also asking (telling) us to look at ourselves, how we will be going through what she is going through, we will be facing death or dealing with it, just around the corner...

jp80874
01-29-2007, 09:50 AM
As I look again at the hearse - it may be horse-drawn. Notice that the doors are hinged on the right like a carriage.

In the field of antique cars, doors that are hinged to open this way are called suicide doors. One wonders if this adds to the symbolism.

John Powers

copake_ham
01-29-2007, 07:07 PM
You can find some more information about this photo in the following
interview (look for "Lange" once you get there).

http://www.photowings.org/pages/index.php?pgA73

Basically, John Szarkowski found out that the words "end of an era" was more of a personal observation by Lange for the widow in the photo (her husband is dead and it's the end of her life as she knew it) , and not a social observation. Then Szarkowski makes the comment about how malleable photos are, and how the makers frequently try to nail down the possible interpretations with titles, text etc.

-Bill


I think 'end of an era' is a good title. Whatever the woman is feeling (and how can we assume exactly what she's feeling) it will be the end of a phase.

I find her look very powerful - asking us why we are looking at her, but also asking (telling) us to look at ourselves, how we will be going through what she is going through, we will be facing death or dealing with it, just around the corner...

I find this interesting only that the word "Era" usually refers to a period of time of commonality that was (it's usually used in a past tense) experienced by a society - we don't usually use the word to refer to an individual's time experience.

So, if Lange was using it to define this woman's "era of married life" I think the title is, shall we say, somewhat misleading.

Then again, maybe that's my NY Times crossword puzzle pickiness coming out. But in the late 1930's I don't think people had personal "eras". :confused: :D

Bill Hahn
01-29-2007, 07:55 PM
George,

I agree it was a misleading use of language, but these misleading uses increase over time and modify the usage. I knew we were in deep trouble when someone was quoted in the Boston Globe saying "I don't want to be signaled out." Singled out, maybe? I don't know anymore....

And speaking of crossword puzzles, my late father and (my currently living mother) kept crossword puzzles in the bathroom. While we were polite to each other in person, one could expect a vigorous erasing of one's solutions at times. We never discussed the crossword puzzles --- except once, my feeble father leaned over to me and said: "Women of habit...nuns...good catch, son."

But here we are discussing language, when we should be discussing the image....

copake_ham
01-29-2007, 09:05 PM
George,

I agree it was a misleading use of language, but these misleading uses increase over time and modify the usage. I knew we were in deep trouble when someone was quoted in the Boston Globe saying "I don't want to be signaled out." Singled out, maybe? I don't know anymore....

And speaking of crossword puzzles, my late father and (my currently living mother) kept crossword puzzles in the bathroom. While we were polite to each other in person, one could expect a vigorous erasing of one's solutions at times. We never discussed the crossword puzzles --- except once, my feeble father leaned over to me and said: "Women of habit...nuns...good catch, son."

But here we are discussing language, when we should be discussing the image....

Score one for your late Father!

As to the image - I just noticed how the windows reflect cloud scudded skies behind Lange while the Sun is still casting shadows off to the right.

Storm clouds perhaps - are they coming? Or passing?

bruce terry
01-29-2007, 10:42 PM
Charmingly grotesque, but the awkwardly-chopped-off aft portion of the hearse down the lower right vertical throws me way off.

I wonder what Lange was thinking - or not thinking - to leave the image like this when an extremely slight crop would have removed the useless busy-ness of the bottom-half vertical edge, brought out the cab and it's sadly terminal passenger much more powerfully - and lost absolutely nothing of any value.

But I wasn't there, then, nor am I a great photographer. But I am a curious one: Why did Lange do this? Was she one of those ardent no-croppers? Any thoughts?

Bruce

Colin Graham
01-30-2007, 10:17 AM
That was me Bruce. I had to scan the image in from a large book and cropped off abit much there to straighten the image. Sorry about that. Very clumsy of me.

Colin Graham
01-30-2007, 10:25 AM
Here's a better one.

bjorke
01-30-2007, 03:39 PM
http://bermangraphics.com/images/300-Somnambulist1970.jpg





Hi Ralph

bruce terry
01-30-2007, 07:11 PM
Amazing how much better people look when they roll down the window.

copake_ham
01-30-2007, 07:46 PM
Amazing how much better people look when they roll down the window.

But then again, you don't get the "mourning cloud" reflections off the windows either....

Bill Mitchell
01-30-2007, 11:16 PM
Thank you for presenting it.
I first saw this image in the early 50s, and as a small-town boy knew instantly what situation was presented. I doubt that anyone who grew up much later, or in a city, would recognize and respond to it. It was not just the widow, but the whole thing -- cropping down would completely ruin the entire story, told in a single photograph. What a genius Lange was!
The period, of course, was referred to even then as the Depression Era.
I think it's time for me to go back and re-read Milton Meltzer's excellent biography of Lange.

catem
01-31-2007, 04:29 AM
But then again, you don't get the "mourning cloud" reflections off the windows either....

Or the direct gaze back at you.

btw I think 'end of an era' can be used in a personal way, we do it all the time in our family -e.g. moving house etc. Maybe it's a cultural thing. The title doesn't jar with me. I think it's an interesting question - and not just being picky over language - as some photographers choose the titles of their photos with care, and it can add a lot to the meaning. Obviously Lange felt it made sense on a personal level aswell.

Bill Mitchell
01-31-2007, 10:33 AM
Apparently the entire title is: "Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town. California, 1938."
Lange's titles can be a little flaky, because many of them were invented for her book, "American Exodsis."

copake_ham
01-31-2007, 01:51 PM
Or the direct gaze back at you.

btw I think 'end of an era' can be used in a personal way, we do it all the time in our family -e.g. moving house etc. Maybe it's a cultural thing. The title doesn't jar with me. I think it's an interesting question - and not just being picky over language - as some photographers choose the titles of their photos with care, and it can add a lot to the meaning. Obviously Lange felt it made sense on a personal level aswell.

Yes, I can see where there are personal uses of the word "era". I guess part of it with Lange is that I associate her work so much with the Great Depression etc. that it seemed the title should portend something larger than this woman's personal history.