Friday, 4 March 2016

Depression Era Photography

Walker Evans: ‘Floyd and Lucille Burroughs’ 1936

Floyd and his daughter pictured above have a particularly interesting symbolic meaning in relation to the Great Depression.

You can see the extent of their poverty by examining their clothes, especially Floyds. He wears fairly ragged garments which show the signs of a lack of wealth and an unsanitary lifestyle. Probably due to the lack of running water and irrigation. Lucille is dressed more neatly which ill come to later.

The lack of shoes is not to overlooked. The fact they have no money for shoes is indicative of the desperate lack of wealth that farm families dealt with from the late 20’s through the 30’s. If you were to crop the bare, dirty feet out of this photo it would convey different emotions. However, Evans decided against preserving the dignity of the Burroughs’. Thus, to a degree, this text can be read as a propaganda piece. Almost advertising the despair of a great number of Americans. When read this way, Floyd and Lucille become examples of Lawrence Levine’s ‘perfect victims’. For Levine, the medium of photography, ‘makes a greater claim on our credulity than other types of documents.’ And so he says that depression era photographers like Evans sought out to capture people who conveyed the despair in the situation whilst missing the fact that, ‘they filled their days, as we fill ours, with the essentials of everyday living’ as well as great strength of character and spirit.

The way in which Lucille is presented in the image says a lot to me about American pride. She is clean, as she can be, and is dressed in smart, feminine clothes. She is also sat up on a chair out of the dirt and grime. I think that she represents the resurgence of – or undying – values that are the foundation of the American self, especially in the agricultural, primitive lifestyles of ‘old America’. Similarly, it expresses the intangible unselfishness of parents who will give everything – even when that is nothing – to protect their children and give them self respect.

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