Are there common links among the Great Depression photos?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that one of the common links in the photos from the Great Depression is the message of sadness that is an indelible part of both their pixels and the American setting of the time period.  Dorothea Lange captures this in her work.  The portraits of life during the Great Depression do not shy from showing the difficulty of life in economic hardships.  At the same time, the photos she takes looks at this reality from a human point of view.  The facial expressions of her subjects are not ones that can escape the reality of what surrounds them.  Migrant Mother is one such work.  Lange wrote that she was "attracted" by the "hunger" of the subject, and this is something that cannot be overlooked in the portrait.  The "modern rural community" of Arthur Rothstein's works also captured this feeling of loss and displacement in the lives of African- Americans during the 1930s.  This same sense of barren emptiness is present in Walker Evans' capturing of Gas Station in 1936.  There is a common experience in these portraits, and in so many photos of the Great Depression, of the sense of despair and isolating agony that is present during this time period.

However, it should be noted that many of these photojournalists sought to display how life is so that individuals would gain a greater understanding for the plight of their fellow citizens.  In this a powerful condition of social realism emerges, when the depiction of art seeks to broaden social connection between individuals in the hopes of transforming reality from what it is into what should be.

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