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Monday, 20 December 2010

Carl Mydans: Narrow Street / Samuel Beckett: neither

Narrow street, New Brunswick, New Jersey
: photo by Carl Mydans, February 1936

To and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow

Bed and sitting room, Hamilton County, Ohio: photo by Carl Mydans, December 1935

from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither
View of the Manville Works, Manville, New Jersey: photo by Carl Mydans, February 1936

as between two lit refuges whose doors once neared gently close, once away turned from gently part again

Tenement kitchen, Hamilton County, Ohio
: photo by Carl Mydans, December 1935

beckoned back and forth and turned away
The Calco Chemical Company near Bound Brook, New Jersey: photo by Carl Mydans, February 1936

heedless of the way, intent on the one gleam or the other


South River, New Jersey
: photo by Carl Mydans, February 1936

unheard footfalls only sound

Bed and sitting room, Hamilton County, Ohio: photo by Carl Mydans, December 1935

till at last halt for good, absent for good from self and other

Van Horn Street, Hamilton County, Ohio: photo by Carl Mydans, December 1935

then no sound

Interior of a Negro dwelling, Hamilton County, Ohio: photo by Carl Mydans, December 1935

then gently light unfading on that unheeded neither

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Room of white man, Hamilton County, Ohio: photo by Carl Mydans, December 1935

unspeakable home

Tent squatter, common scene along the Ohio River, Hamilton County, Ohio: photo by Carl Mydans, December 1935

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

Samuel Beckett: neither, 1976




a narrow street indeed, "from inner to outer shadow"


grey-white cloud against shadowed green
ridge, silhouette of blue jay on branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

present of concealed, thing
despite the fact that

other “elements,” pictorial
“position,” shapes as

grey rain cloud against green of ridge,
silver of drops splashing into channel

Julia said...

Have you noticed the cat and the dogs in these pictures? (I'm sure you have).
There's always a place for that kind of friends, no matter what.

¿Cómo estás, Tom? Mejor, espero...

Anonymous said...

The combination of Mydans and Beckett is so delicate and so acute. I've now read about Mydans. As far as I can recall, he is a new addition to the WPA mix here and an incredible one. Even though he seems unfamiliar to me, having read his biographical material I assume I've seen his work in other contexts my whole life. This is a clarifying and moving encounter, but it's so funny how the street scenes look like movie sets even though they clearly aren't.

TC said...


You have a photographer's eye (as well as a tender heart), to notice the poignant detail -- the animal companions of these people who obviously need any companionship they can find.

The two hombres in the bed and sitting room, Hamilton County, Ohio, may appear muy duro, but one would like to think there is a tender side to their natures, indicated by their pet cat.

(Or perhaps in such accommodations the cat is merely a practical feature -- a pincharrata?)

And the tent squatter with his little dog, how sweet and sad. One would like to think that somewhere down the line fate held some kindness in store for both of them.

But that may be a bit unrealistic.

The descendants of that squatter -- the so-called "street people" of our cities, now, some of them my accidental familiars -- would probably be foolish to expect kindnesses from fate.

Or from history, which is perhaps more to the point.

(And speaking of kindnesses, thanks again for the good wishes, the thoughtfulness of a few friends like you has truly helped a great deal in a time of no little difficulty and pain.)

TC said...

(Oh and Julia, speaking of your photographer's eye, I had almost forgotten to ask -- looking at some photos from South America on the NASA Flickr group last night, I wondered if by any chance you had been out with your camera during this remarkable, once-in-many-lifetimes astronomical event?)

TC said...

Steve, Curtis, many thanks.

Carl Mydans is perhaps less well known than some of the other FSA photographers, though he was in fact one of the very first. The regrettable phenomenon of his being overshadowed by others is no doubt due to the fact he left government work early, going on to become -- along with Eisenstaedt, Bourke-White, et al. -- one of the distinctive "eyes" of Life magazine.

(And I take it you've looked into his story a bit, quite a story indeed: a POW in the Philippines and China, then later working on the front lines during the European war, and returning to the Philippines at the time of MacArthur's landing, etc.)

But I think he should be given his due, what he did nobody else did quite so well. His subjects during his time with the FSA were to found in the "hurting places", at this most damaged of times, in the worst years of the Depression.

He specialized in photos of urban blight, and was not given to gilding any of the downtrodden lilies he discovered in his investigations.

Behind those bleak derelict fences and boarding house walls so much hard actuality lay

despite the fact that

other “elements,” pictorial

had been brought to bear...

And in my sense of the thing, none of the other FSA people who were concentrating on documenting all that social/existential pathos of the worst Depression years (and in this I would include Lange and Evans, who got all the attention in later times) were quite as good as Carl Mydans at extracting the powerful if unlyrical feelings from the dense hardscrabble facts.



Thanks for further note on Carl Mydans, whose photos really hit -- "so much hard actuality" as you say to put it mildly. . . . Easier (on the eyes) simply to be stunned by such pictures of last night's eclipse. . . .