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Monday, 27 September 2010

Russell Lee: Everything Must Go


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Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Signboard on land near Iron River, Michigan: photo by Russell Lee, April 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Sign advertising land for farm purposes, pine area, New Jersey: photo by Russell Lee, January 1938

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Los Angeles, California. Auction sale sign in Little Tokyo. The stock belongs to a Japanese subject to evacuation from West Coast areas under Army war emergency order: photo by Russell Lee, April 1942

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Sign of farm for sale, Malheur County, Oregon. The notice of eighty shares of water is indicative of the dependence of agriculture on irrigation water: photo by Russell Lee, May 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Auctioning pigs at Frank Sheroan's closing-out sale near Montmorenci, Indiana: photo by Russell Lee, February 1937

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Notice which appeared in a Montmorenci, Indiana newspaper. Frank Sheroan sale: photo by Russell Lee, February 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Men taking bed apart at S.W. Sparlin auction sale, Orth, Minnesota, photo by Russell Lee, August 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Goods to be auctioned at Sparlin sale, Orth, Minnesota, photo by Russell Lee, August 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Farmer at S.W. Sparlin's auction sale, Orth, Minnesota, photo by Russell Lee, August 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Speculators at S.W. Sparlin's auction sale, Orth, Minnesota, photo by Russell Lee, August 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

The auctioneer at S.W. Sparlin sale, Orth, Minnesota, photo by Russell Lee, August 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Group of children at Sparlin sale, Orth, Minnesota, photo by Russell Lee, August 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

An old farmer at the Sparlin auction sale, Orth, Minnesota, photo by Russell Lee, August 1937

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Women at the Sparlin auction sale, Orth, Minnesota, photo by Russell Lee, August 1937


Photos by Russell Lee from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

3 comments:

curtisroberts said...

You just wonder about how photographing these scenes must have affected Lee. They're heartbreaking and shocking and you couldn't possibly stay "uninvolved".

TC said...

Curtis, yes, impossible. (In fact as we are currently in the throes of trying to save house and home, this came under the heading of a bit too close for comfort.)

The coldest aspect of the Sparlin sale scene to my eyes was not so much the literal (and plainly tragic) loss of everything material by the dispossessed family but the spectacle of their public humiliation as made particular and specific in the various physical expressions of distance-keeping on the part of the spectators and "speculators" (howdy, neighbors).

The top shots that precede the narrative instance are far cooler, of course. I feel Lee's sense of historical irony at its sharpest in those images of the choice farm lands offered for sale in a starkly lunar Iron River and a perhaps even starker earthly Pine barren.

curtisroberts said...

The "spectacle" you describe in your second paragraph is indeed the shocking aspect of the set. Out of a desire to think well of others, people often try to pretend that behavior like that isn't possible, that it's just something that happens in the theater or in movies, where you can confront it from the audience and deal with it symbolically. Then you see it recorded in documentary photographs like these, which cut through sharply and it shocks the system.