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Friday, 6 January 2012

Russell Lee: Windows: Inside Looking Out


Mexican woman and son looking out of window into corral, San Antonio, Texas: photo by Russell Lee, March 1939

Son of sharecropper in window of old home, Southeast Missouri Farms: photo by Russell Lee, May 1938

Window of apartment house rented to Negroes, Chicago, Illinois: photo by Russell Lee, April 1941

Jack Whinery's daughter setting pot plant in window. This is the window in the aboveground slab room. Pie Town, New Mexico: photo by Russell Lee, June 1940

Migrant worker looking through back window of automobile near Prague, Lincoln County, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, June 1939

Highway from rear window of automobile in Bexar County, Texas: photo by Russell Lee, March 1940

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




Have these views out windows left us all speechless? Maybe so, they sure do stop me in my tracks --is it something about the silence of the faces he catches there in those present moments, now so long gone, and so how moving they are. . . .


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, song sparrow calling from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

therefore even in the first
structure, difference

from this, result of action
given present, second

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
shadowed green slope of ridge across it

TC said...


The fact that the faces of people might actually once have been portals, the souls looking out through the eyes at a/the world --

therefore even in the first
structure, difference

-- where has that time gone?

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

"Where has that time gone?" Looking out--weren't we all there once?

These remind me of the time I was in a small coffeehouse overlooking the ruins of Ancient Messene--it was raining and the owner's little boy had his face up against a window pane.

TC said...


Turning that glass around (like Alice):

Russell Lee: Windows: Outside Looking In

ACravan said...

All of these Russell Lee photos are gems. I forget and then I remember that the pictures are "owned" by all of us. (Obviously, no one owned Russell Lee's mind and talent.) Sometimes I remember this when watching government's other workings on the television news and wish I could forget about that. The relationship of art to government to politics is so confusing. I seriously suspect that no one (apart, possibly, from President Roosevelt and, undoubtedly, some members of his administration) in Congress, the Executive Branch or the Judicial Branch, has any knowledge whatsoever about this extraordinary corpus of work or would give a damn about it on their own volition. Thanks, as always, for researching and curating it so beautifully and memorably. Curtis

TC said...


The miracle of the FSA photo project was that it happened at all. Roy Strykers made heroic efforts with the people above him, to get the photos out to the public. But it was an uphill struggle all the way, and of course Strykers was not (had not in any case the time to be) a "detail person". He did a great job of gathering the photographers, inspiring their mission, and protecting the project from bureaucratic interference, insofar as he was able. But once the war started, and the OWI, literally a propaganda agency, got its nose under the tent -- curtains.

I still marvel that the files exist. There are continual archival problems. Recently a very large share of the B&W digitized negatives simply stopped loading beyond the top half. So the bottom half of those histories may or may not still exist.

They say diamonds are forever, and to me these photo files represent "good" diamonds -- no slavery or oppression involved in the production.

But they also say forever is a long, long time.

ACravan said...

I suspect the "lost" digital files still exist (and of course they can be recreated). But it's obviously not a priority for our government. I can only imagine what digitization project is at the front of the line this week. When I think of who might be executing these projects, I'm reminded of a just-post-college summer job I had as a microfilmer working on a not-unimportant government-related project in the science department at the University of Pennsylvania. Everything I ever knew about microfilming documents I learned very quickly with my mind mostly on other things. My distraction became especially burdensome to my colleagues when, though my ineptness, I misloaded film in the developing room. The entire reel needed to spool through the big machine before you could clean up and start over. I thought of the whole thing in terms of art possibilities which, to be honest, was pretty silly and inconsiderate. I'm sure the Library of Congress digitizer, based on recent journalism, is much better-heeled than I was, and will probably be attending to the Russell Lees at some point in some future administration. Curtis