America’s Next Great Pundit

And now, a break from our regularly-scheduled programming.

Thanks to my facebook friend Janna Wagner, I decided to enter the Washington Post’s contest for America’s Next Great Pundit. I think all of you should enter, too.

I’m going to repost my entry here, because it may not go very far in the Washington Post rounds, and I am curious about bringing this blog away from only mommy issues.

So here it is.

Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother"

I keep hearing that we are in the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, but I don’t see it. Where are the current news photographers with the power of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, or the other classic photographers of the Great Depression? Current media photographs of signs reading “Bank Closed” don’t carry the same emotional weight as 1930s news images of visibly struggling people in breadlines and farm shacks and migrant-labor camps.

Recently the Boston Globe, New York Times, Slate.com, and U.K. Guardian have all grown desperate enough — or underfunded enough – to beg readers to send in their own images of the recession. Photos of unfinished subdivisions, crowded job fairs, and unsold cars predominate. There are a lot of photographs of signs: “Foreclosure Tours” and “Going Out of Business Sale.” There are very few photos of people.

How do you photograph a poorly regulated banking system? How do you personalize a global credit crunch?These may seem like huge issues, impossible to illustrate in a single image. Yet there were also complex, worldwide issues in the 1930s. Unlike today, though, the Great Depression did not see a great narrowing of media budgets. There was an expansion of available images because the New Deal government funded artists through programs like the Farm Security Administration which subsidized the photography of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans and the other artists whose photos are now iconic. In the 1930s, artists also organized themselves into what historians call the “cultural front,” fighting to persuade the general public to notice the plight of workers at the bottom.

Perhaps later historians will identify another “cultural front” of the depression of 2009. Maybe it will include Camilo Jose Vergara’s beautiful photos of American Ruins, with the hopefulness of colorful small businesses blooming in the wreckage of American cities. Maybe it will include a blogger or tweeter I have not yet heard of. Or maybe we will have no Dorothea Lange, this time.

That’s it. But here’s the personal mommy angle, that I didn’t have room to include:

This morning, Sophie’s daycare teacher told me that one of Sophie’s playmates is several months behind in paying for daycare. Her checks keep bouncing. This means that daycare teacher has a choice: forego one-sixth of her salary (since she makes her living caring for six kids a day), or evict this one-year-old whose family is clearly struggling. So far, the teacher has chosen to simply give up one-sixth of her already-slim income.

I keep hearing these stories, and keep wondering why they’re not in the news, instead of Balloon Boy nonsense.

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One response to “America’s Next Great Pundit

  1. Tracy

    I don’t know how you feel about Michael Moore, but I recommend you take another “date night” and go see Capitalism, A Love Story. I believe Moore has documented the issue of our recession very well, including images of the people.

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