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  1. #1

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    Funeral Cortege by Dorothea Lange

    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.
    Last edited by Colin Graham; 07-25-2007 at 11:26 PM. Click to view previous post history.

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    "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....
    "I bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright

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    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.

  4. #4
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    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?

  5. #5
    Bill Hahn's Avatar
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    Some more information

    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 bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright

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    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...
    Last edited by catem; 01-29-2007 at 08:57 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by copake_ham View Post

    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

  8. #8
    copake_ham's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Hahn View Post
    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
    Quote Originally Posted by Stargazer View Post
    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".

  9. #9
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    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....
    "I bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright

  10. #10
    copake_ham's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Hahn View Post
    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?

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