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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Pie Town Fair: Russell Lee

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  Group of homesteaders in front of the pinto bean warehouse which was used for crop exhibit hall at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940




Way up there in the thin high air of the Divide
to start again
in a dugout house, with a batch of kids, a patch

of pinto beans, a spouse
who'll share that demanding challenge of a meagre land, turn
with you that stingy soil, see and raise your labour

so that come harvest time the match
of effort with intent, toil
with purpose, vision, dream, in that high thin

air, under those pure blue
skies that leap to heaven
from Mount Allegro, will yield the grace

said over the scratched-out bounty
of an ungiving land, relenting
for a moment, offering itself up, at the fair.




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  Fruit wagon at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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People at the Fair, Pie Town, New Mexico: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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  Friends meeting at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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Initial pin souvenirs at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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At the Fair, Pie Town, New Mexico: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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 Grace was said before the barbeque was served at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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Cutting the pies and cakes at the barbeque dinner, Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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Serving pinto beans at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair barbeque: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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Serving up the barbeque at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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 Crowd eating free barbeque dinner at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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Men in front of outdoor fire at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940

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Rodeo at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940
 
 
Russell Lee photos from Farm Security Administration Collection, Library of Congress

17 comments:

Nin Andrews said...

I love these photos. I feel as if I was there, in a variation of that some 20 years later. All those outdoor events, though they were hot in Va with flies around the food and in the food . . .

There still is some romance to it, or so it seems, though most of the romance is in the idea I bet, not the reality of what it must have been like.

TC said...

Nin, that feeling you're talking about, though the participants might not have called it romance, seems from this distance palpable, and very real.

I marvel at the ability of Russell Lee to work unobtrusively in such situations; it appears the photos are being taken by a trusted observer whose presence is noninterfering and whose detachment is at the same time kept intact. There is a naturalness about the scenes.

He came from a small town in northern Illinois (Ottawa) and that might have given him an advantage other photographers lacked, in a setting like this. It was such settings to which he was always drawn. (He would go on to do wonderful work in the Spanish-American communities of thhe Southwest.)

It's apparently a pleasant occasion, a subdued celebration of sorts. They have brought in the pinto bean harvest, the beans are in the bean shed, the field work is suspended, this is the Fair.

tpw said...

Dear T: I love that poem, all those tasty internal rhymes darting in and out with precision movement. And the photos: I want a small slice of each of those pies and cakes.

Hazen said...

This is direct seeing, a quality that Lee seems to possess in abundance on this assignment in Pie Town, and a skill he shared with his FSA colleague, Walker Evans. His compositions satisfy; they answer an innate desire for harmony and balance. Right from the start we see this in the topmost photo, when a woman strides from the left into a picture where each figure in the crowd almost seems posed, as Velazquez might do in Las Meninas, but—except for Lee’s choosing the moment to trip the shutter—is entirely random: the boy turning, his bare foot extended; the dainty, white gloved hands of the invisible woman to whom he turns; the hats, the faces. And in another photo, the gestures of the women meeting at the fair and the red-haired boy standing apart . . .

Your vision of living “up on the Divide” is like this. It catches the essence of “the scratched-out bounty” of a life on the margins.

TC said...

Terry and Hazen,

Many, many thanks.

"Direct seeing" -- that's spot on. Lee's work does indeed often evoke Evans's curious, frequently reiterated comment about composition, and finding the moment when it clicks: "God made it that way." Variously reiterated..."God did that, I wouldn't change it."

There was maybe just the slightest nudge here and there by Walker, though -- just making sure that God had got it right.

And of course things like colour and flash(bulbs, that is) were disdained by Evans, who was a bit arrogant in that respect.

(Remembering that Russell Lee started out as a painter.)

dalriada9 said...

Well you work for yourself and there are huge rewards in that even if there may be no financial riches

One has to be resilient and i suppose altruistic in some degree too in order to more than merely survive I'm assuming a neighbour is in the same financial boat

It contrasts how much of a persons life juices get squeezed out of them to serve their boss's and the company's interests

So much sour grapes too in relation to peers and their perceived affluence

Simpler lives maybe mean simpler pleasures?

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Your poem and Lee’s photos make for delicious fare--a blue-ribbon combination plate!

gamefaced said...

tom, i just started "rainbow pie" (joebageant)
i think you'd enjoy it.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

yes to Russell Lee"choosing the moment the trip the shutter" -- each fleeting moment caught, as in that one with the women and children at the car (New Mexico license plate 91-338, woman in back (open) seat w/ blond child leaning toward woman in red-orange sweater, her right foot tucked up and right hand on roof, girl looking down. . .

". . .in that high thin air,
under those pure blue skies. . ."

4.4

backlit edge of cloud above still black
ridge, bird standing on shadowed branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

plane distance from the sun,
form which amounts to

co-ordinates, that equal to
this we see, possible

whiteness of sun in clouds above ridge,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

-K- said...

Hi Tom,

Michael Lally is saying you've had an accident. I've been enjoying your blog for months now and your writing for literally decades.

I certainly hope that this finds you well or at least better.

Kevin

(Feel free to delete this message if you want to keep your situation private.)

Hazen said...

Tom, Hope you are well. You are missed. All the best. Hazen.

kent said...

Here too, we anxiously await.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Tom, here is to a speedy recovery, my friend. You and A are in my thoughts.

Don

Tom King said...

Sorry to hear about your accident and I wish you a quick recovery, and I miss your blog already.

gamefaced said...

i keep checking my reader for a tc update. get well sooner.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

A week seems so long sometimes.

Chris said...

And a week and a day seems even longer. Sending good wishes...