Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dorothea Lange & the Tough Times

Breadline, photograph by Dorothea Lange (1932, San Francisco)

When we think we’ve got it bad, just remember the bad times of former generations were much worse that this!
by Charlie Leck

We’ve been hit with some hard times. There’s no doubt about it. I listened in on some Public Radio conversations yesterday with a number of couples who have had their retirement plans destroyed. A cabin in Vermont that won’t be built and retirement right there in Hartford instead. A couple who needs to postpone their retirement for several years. Another who thinks that retirement will never come. I was doing yard work while I listened and it was sad to overhear such personal conversations.

Our portfolio was hit hard. We’ve had to adjust, but we can do that.

Unemployment is as high as it’s been for the last 50 years. Food shelves are extraordinarily busy and their inventories are very low. I hope you’re helping out and contributing to those needs. We’ve decided to be much more careful with our grocery shopping, but also to give as much to the food shelf in our region as we spend on our own groceries.

Don’t hear that as boasting or self-promotion, please! Receive it as an idea. We can all give some thought to how we can help out in these times. We can try to share what we have and we can try to find some time to volunteer where we’re needed. It’s tough to worry about when you’re going to get a round of golf in or what you’ll wear to the theatre this weekend when there is so much need surrounding us.

I had some conversations with my parents about the Great Depression – the real depression in America – but I wish I’d had more serious talks with them about it. They were just married and living in New York City when the big one hit. My dad managed to hold on to his job, but his wages were seriously reduced. My mom realized she was pregnant shortly after the depression hit and that news was shocking. Fortunately they both had parents nearby who helped out all they could. My mom’s father held on to his job with the city and he worked straight through the bad times. My father’s old man had his business rocked and seriously weakened, but he also kept his head above water by cutting way back everywhere he could. There were cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles who were all seriously impacted by the crushed economy and the stories of the family pulling together and helping each other were poignant and touching.

Stranded, a photograph by Dorothea Lange (1935, California)

A couple of decades ago, I became familiar with the photographic work that Dorothea Lange did during those difficult times in the ‘30s. To feel something of the reality, the pain and the challenge of the Great Depression, one needs only to go through her spectacular photographs. I’ve used a number of them to illustrate my blog from time to time. I’m posting a handful here for you now, so you can see what a story-teller she was.

[To see more Lange photographs go to this U.S. Gov't web site.]

Street Demonstration (photograph by Dorothea Lange, San Francisco, 1932)

Auto Camp for Citrus Workers (photograph by Dorothea Lange, 1935, Tulare County, CA)

Migrant Mother (This photograph by Dorothea Lange is her most famous. Note that the mother has a baby in her arms. There have been a number of recent stories about the little girl on the right. At the time of the photograph this woman was caring for 7 children.)

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