CR#6 — The Great Depression

This week our class touched on The Great Depression. It was a worldwide depression that began in 1929 and lasted a decade. It is a well-documented part of worldwide history though what caused the depression is still debated today. It surely wasn’t just one event, person, or thing. It was a culmination of events that began a chain reaction, which led to a house of cards crashing down. Regardless of the causes, the effect was devastating to the world. America and the world give a large part of the credit of pulling out of the depression to their involvement of World War II. This was a whole decade of suffering and struggling to survive after one of the most prosperous decades in American history. Ten years is a long time and countless life stories can be told during that time. Anyone who could tell us about life during the 30’s is dead now, so to dig 90–100 years back, we need documentation.

There has been much documentation on The Great Depression making it difficult to not find source material. Some areas that might be lacking from early 1900’s and prior are audio and video sources. When searching for sources, primary sources are always the best, followed by secondary sources. Of the wide-ranging types of sources available, it’s difficult to say what is best. An unsolicited photograph with an unwary subject may capture a moment in time that generations can reflect upon and gain a better understanding of an era. These photographs are rare and take patience and, in many cases, bravery to obtain.

But photographers do not have the luxury of waiting around and hoping an era defining photograph “happens.” So, they make it happen. The photographer poses the subject(s), frames the photograph, then edits the photograph during development and finalization. It is the photographers and the publisher’s intention to manipulate an audience. Their goal is to evoke emotions in the audience, which in turn will bring forth a desired response. And it’s not just photographs, and it still goes on today. This has been going on since the advent of the photograph and has been refined to mastery by mass media.

The case study we used was of a photograph. It the photograph known as the “Migrant Mother.” Whether or not you know the name, it is likely you are familiar with or have at least seen the picture. She is posed with 3 of her 9 children. The photograph used was one is a series taken by the photographer as part of a government propaganda program. The mother’s and her children’s’ raggedy clothes and unbathed appearance going along with her worrisome gaze into the distance caused many sympathetic civilians doing better during the depression to fund a relief movement.

Photographs, authentic and those staged, have been able to capture the imagination of its viewers for generations. Many will never have known they had been manipulated. This is the problem with all historical sources we look through today. The intent of the photographer must be questioned. If not the photographer, then the publisher. Is the source material authentic or was it staged for a purpose? If it was staged, did it tell the truth of the situation, was it just dramatized or was it a complete falsehood? In our classroom’s case study, I would consider it a dramatization. The “Migrant Mother” was not doing well, and her family was doing better than some, but she had every right to worry about her and her children’s futures.