Monday, March 2, 2009

Picturing the Crisis

"Where is the crisis?" Brian Ulrich asked a couple of days ago wondering why there is so little in-depth photographic reaction to the rapid transformation of the state of things. Just be patient! US photographers have never failed to come up with iconic images of major or minor turning points in American history. It might just take some time.

For momentary lack of iconic imagery of the current crisis (this year's WPP-winner does not fully qualify), everybody looks back at Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother", the dominant picture of the Great Depression. The 1936 portrait of Florence Owens Thompson and her children has near mythical status which is not impaired by the fact that it was (if only slightly) retouched and that Thompson many years later was quoted as saying: "I wish she (Lange) hadn't taken my picture. I can't get a penny out of it. She didn't ask my name. She said she wouldn't sell the pictures. She said she'd send me a copy. She never did." Obviously it is an essential ingredient of iconic images to be disputed. One of Thompson's grandsons seems to have come to terms with Lange's alleged transgression: he sells T-shirts with his grandmother's famous portrait on them.

So much for picturing the crisis over there. Over here however we don't have as much easiness and routine in producing iconic images. Moreover the surfaces have not yet changed as much as they have over there. Let's hope it stays that way (even if it makes documenting the crisis more challenging).

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