Looking Back - Russell Lee

I have always been fascinated by the body of work created by the photographers working for Roy Stryker, the director of photography project at the FSA (Farm Security Administration) during the American Depression years, especially since they have had a profound influence upon my own photographic vision; and while Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans are names more recognizable then Arthur Rothstein, or that of Russell Lee, today’s Looking Back post focuses upon Russell Lee.

Young migratory couple living at the Agua Fria Migratory Labor Camp, Arizona, 1940

Russell was born in July of  1903 and grew up in Ottawa, Illinois., he received a degree in Chemical Engineering from Lehigh University. He had an excellent position as a chemist, but after marrying Doris Emrick in 1927, he gave up his position to become a painter just as his wife. Shortly later the two moved  to a small artist’s community in Woodstoock, New York.

Struggling with his art, Russell turned to photography, only to become interested in photography for its own sake, focusing on the struggling working class and the lives they lead. In 1936 he became interested in a group of Washington, DC’s photographer doing social documentary work. Shortly later he met Stryker, who shortly thereafter hired Russell to develop a collection of propaganda to document the success of federal rural relief project.

Mother of FSA client, Southeast Missouri Farms, 1938

Russell was covering the Midwest for the FSA, visually recording the struggles of the farmers struggling through the Great Depression and the droughts of the 1930s. It was during this time that his marriage to Doris Emrick ended and he married Jean Smith, whom he met and married in 1938. The two worked as a team, with Jean writing short essays to accompany his photographic images.

By 1940, Russell was well established and known as one of the best FSA photographers.

Lee created some very iconic images of his own for the FSA, but also left us with his photographic studies of Augustine, Texas and that of Pie Town, New Mexico a year later in 1940.

Negro family with supplies in wagon ready to leave for the farm, 
Saturday afternoon, San Augustine, Texas, 1939

His work is very different from Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans, even though their subject matter was the same. Russell approached his subjects differently, in part to put a more positive spin on the situation, where people engage with each other, appear relatively happy, but then was it also the propaganda that he needed to accomplish for the FSA. 

Regardless of the situation, Russell’s images of individuals, convey a sense of dignity, regardless of their lot in life. Yes, most of their faces reflect an uneasy hope, but hope never-the-less. Then there are the faces of despair, and even here his photographs treat these individuals with humanity and not exploitive, as we have seen with Migrant Mother. Also many of his photographs do not have a cold clinical documentary appearance, appearing more like family album snapshots.  

You can learn more about Russell Lee by visiting Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas, by clicking on the following two links: Introduction to Russell Lee and Russell Lee Exhibit, as a good portion of his work is housed there. Also there is an article about the Humanities Texas exhibition in 2008 of Russell Lee.

Wife of carpenter and her baby who live in community camp, 
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1939

Husband and wife sitting on settee encamped by the roadside, 
Wagoner County, Oklahoma, 1939

Veteran migrant worker and his wife camped in Wagoner County, Oklahoma, 1939

Group of Negro cotton pickers resting during lunch hour, Lehi, Arkansas, 1938

Southeast Missouri Farms. FSA clients preparing greens for canning, 1938

Children of Alonzo Heath, farmer near Black River Falls, Wisconsin, 1937

Daughters of wage laborer working in the sugarcane fields near New Iberia,
Louisiana, 1938

Children of FSA client, former sharecropper, Southeast Missouri Farms, 1938

Indian children in camp near Little Fork, Minnesota, 1937

FSA clients near Carutherville, Missouri, 1938

Audience listening to orchestra playing outside grocery store on Saturday afternoon, 
Phoenix, Arizona, 1940

Heaping the plates at dinner on the grounds, all day community sing. 
Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940

Eating dinner at the all day community sing, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940

Gernie Marshall and family, near Ringgold, Iowa, 1937

Family of FSA client, former sharecropper, on porch of old shack home, 
New Madrid County, Missouri, 1938

Family of Glen Cook, who rents his farm from a loan company, 
Woodbury County, Iowa, 1936


First Friday of the Month - Södermalm HipstaPak

How quickly a month passes and here we are once more taking a closer look at the latest from Hipstamatic and August’s First Friday of the Month, Swedish inspired Södermalm HipstaPak.

At first you will notice that the Södermalm HipstaPak comes not only with a lens and film, but also this time a new flash is being introduced, the Triple Crown — Hipstamatic’s first bulb flash. As for the other items, the Södermalm HipstaPak film, Gotland is described as giving ones prints a little ‘rough texture,’ and the Bruno lens being finally crafted.

Film: Gotland - Lens: Bruno

Apart from capturing numerous images with the Gotland and Bruno combination, I also selected 10 different Hipstamatic films and lenses to be tested with Gotland and Bruno. While 10 different lens/film combinations is about 20% of the arsenal that is available to the photographer, it does at least offer a glimpse of the Södermalm HipstaPak potential.

After reviewing the first few casual captured, the Södermalm HipstaPak gives one the impression of faded color prints from the 70s or Ektachrome slide film of the 80s that were over exposed. Yet when the Södermalm HipstaPak Gotland and Bruno combination is paired with  other film/lens from the Hipstamatic collection, we are in for a pleasant surprise.

Film: Sussex - Lens: Lowy

The above two photographs represent what the test scene looks like under normal condition, using one of Hipstamatic’s most neutral film and lens, Thereby establishing a guide for the viewer to judge the Södermalm HipstaPak. It should also be noted that there has been no post process of any kind applied to any of the images in this review.

Film: Gotland - Lens: Americana

Much depends on the various colors of a scene as to how any of the Hipstamatic’s film or lenses will react and render the image. While this months evaluation contains no reds or strong yellows, when Södermalm’s lens and films are paired with other Hipstamatic’s lenses and films, we still can make a fair assessment as to Södermalm capabilities.

As for the photographs above with the Americana lens, Gotland film appears not as faded or over exposed and actually very pleasant, especially in the way the building was rendered. You will notice that a green-blue tint layer influences the image.

Film: Gotland - Lens: Diego

The Diego lens captures the scene and brightens the overall image and brings out more detail in the dark areas because of it. The tonality is a slight beige shift in the light grays, as we see evident in the concrete and a desaturation of the green eucalyptus trees.

Film: Gotland - Lens: GSquad

With the GSquad lens both scenes are given an extra punch of color, rendering the image more saturated and reversing the desaturation the Södermalm HipstaPak will be known for. Please note the tonal appearrance being more yellow-brown.

Film: Gotland - Lens: James M

In this combination the James M also reverses most of the desaturation, color fade or over exposure of the Södermalm original combination and represents the scene most accurately, with just a slight tonal layering of pale blue. 

Film: Gotland - Lens: John S

The John S lens is a favorite of many, including myself, especially when paired with Claunch 72 Monochrome or other Black & White film, however when used with the Gotland film, there are some very dramatic alterations of the image occurring, making it less likely to be used with Gotland.

Film: Gotland - Lens: Lowy

By now yo should know that I personally favor the Lowy lens over all others for accuracy and sharpness, and we see why when viewing the results of these two photographs.

Colors are just about rendered with 100 percent accuracy and there are no exaggerations of any kind. We should note that due to the Gotland film rendering darks lighter, that there is just a small portion of this occurring here too, in revealing a touch more detail in the dark and shadow areas of the image.

Film: Gotland - Lens: Sergio

Sergio is noted for its strong blurriness and especially yellow ochre tint dominating the over all appearance of the photograph and these qualities are certainly still very evident when paired with Gotland film.

Film: Gotland - Lens: Tinto 1884

I have to confess that I was very pleased with the test results when Gotland was paired with Tinto 1884 lens. The blue cast in both images is just wonderful, with the greens being more saturated and giving the Art Deco building a cool and lovely appearance. This combination just might be perfect for portraiture and especially for a fashion layout. 

Film: Gotland - Lens: Wonder

This was also another combination that pleased me in the way the two interacted with each other. While the blue tones are not as subtle and delicate as with Tinto 1884, they are still evident in the over all results, rendering the photograph a little more dark grey and thereby toning down the over all colors.

Film: Gotland - Lens: YUЯI 61

Depending on your personal tastes and what you are trying to achieve, this pairing left me wanting more. The YUЯI 61 blue-violet casts did little for the image, other then to adjust the overall colors.


Lens: Bruno - Film: AO DLX

Now we come to the part where we pair Södermalm Bruno lens with other films. I was most eager to try AO DLX from the Nike HipstPak, as it is one of my favorite Black & White films when paired with the GSquad lens for street photography.

While the results were not similar, I was also not disappointed, especially since it appears that when paired with Gotland, there is a little more retention of detail in the highlight areas and that is always good.

Lens: Bruno - Film: Blanko

For me the film Blanko will always be an art film due to the very soft fiber textures that remind me of high quality rice paper. So when using Blanko film, I feel I am making a mono-print. If you decide to use this film with the Bruno lens, note that there will be also a color shift and in this case towards warmer yellow tones.

Lens: Bruno - Film: Claunch 72 Monochrome

I mentioned earlier that when this film is paired with the John S lens, it is one of my favorite combinations. When it is combined Bruno the results are not as dramatic as with John S and the Södermalm trademark of rendering scenes lighter and colors faded, we see this to be the case here. The typical color cast of Claunch 72 Monochrome is lighter but does retain its greenish tones.

Lens: Bruno - Film: C-type Plate

For many of us, either the D-Type or C-Type Plate film is one of our favorite, in which you can include me and we are not disappointed in the way Bruno renders the scene.

Lens: Bruno - Film: Ina’s 1935

I like all three Ina films, so I just selected randomly the Ina’s 1935 to see how it would react with Bruno. As you see, the colors are slightly punched and given a warm yellow cast. 

Lens: Bruno - Film: Pistil

I normally have more color saturation to the point of being unrealistic  when using Pistil film, but as you can see, this certainly is not the case here. We do see the Södermalm trademark of rendering the scene lighter and so effecting the colors.

Lens: Bruno - Film: Robusta

Here was another pleasant surprise when using Robusta with Bruno. THe increase in saturation with a slight shift in tones towards red, giving the eucalyptus trees nice definitions and making them appear more full of life.

Lens: Bruno - Film: Rock BW-11

I have to admit that so far the Södermalm HipstaPak when paired with other lenses and films reveals a greater benefit then just by itself. For here with my favorite all-around Black & White film Rock BW-11, I am once more pleased with the results and in this case the Södermalm trademark of lighting the scene and bringing out detail in the dark area are a benefit since Rock BW-11 tens to really provide rich and deep blacks. 

Because of the films richness, the pairing with Bruno does not compromise the richness, making this combination perfect for that greater 16 Zone range between whites and blacks. For those of you too young, I am referring to Ansel Adams Zone System for achieving a greater range in negative and print when working in Black & White.

Lens: Bruno - Film: Sussex

Sussex is currently my favorite Hipstamatic color film, having dethroned DC. While I prefer a borderless film, there is a certain beauty with Sussex border as well as the films overall ochre warm qualities. While we are not disappointed, once again Södermalm qualities of brightening the colors or as one might say desaturating them, this is evident here too but to a much lesser amount, making this also a nice pairing when faced with a scene with increased shadows and darks.

Lens: Bruno - Film: W40

We now come to the last film tested with the Bruno lens. While I am not a fan of vignetting, which many of the early Hipstamatic films and lenses are, this is one combination I personal pass on. Yet for those of you who like vignetting may just like this combination, as W40 blue tones are evident in the sky and a little int  he greens, it is less so with the other photographs.

          Final Verdict

While I felt the previous month’s HipstaPak, The District was “rather limited in its range of usefulness,” the Södermalm HipstaPak when paired with other lenses and film in the Hipstamatic collection is a nice addition to have. Yet the Södermalm HipstaPak by itself is limited. It just goes to show, one should not judge a book by its cover and I am glad I went beyond my initial reaction and tried the Södermalm in conjunction with other combinations. For I certainly have a few favorites in which Gotland and Bruno will be beneficial with other films and lenses.

Film: Gotland - Lens: Bruno

Hipstamatic in-App purchase screen shot

All photographs taken with an iPhone 4S by
©2014 Egmont van Dyck - All Rights Reserved

The Cemetery Project - Ornella Ascolese Ferreira

The Gift of a Book and a Childhood Memory

Before the widespread use of internet and social networking, I had tried several times to locate a book that made a huge impression upon me when I was only eight or nine years of age. A little over a decade ago I even got in touch with the school district, but they could not recall such a book, despite being dead certain about its title.

I do not know what happened to my original copy of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten,” a book with a story which fuelled a young boy’s imagination with adventure and a taste for foreign shores, a story that also reflected the very essence and existence for the child’s hometown.

Hamburg, Germany, a port city where ships depart and arrive from all points of the map since the founding of the city, is where he grew up, watching ships navigate the river, Elbe and into the heart of the city.

The premise of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten,” is about a group of boys who find an abandoned lifeboat, fix it up, turning into a sail boat and go explore the rivers coast line and the open sea.

It was also a time when theaters featured movies not only about cowboys and Indians and the Wild American West, but also about the high seas and the dangers of pirates and their reign of terror in the Caribbean Seas. 

As the years passed, turning into more than five decades, the love of the story about Hans and his comrades did not fade from memory, to be forgotten, rather strengthened and after watching a foreign motion picture that was filmed in Hamburg, the search was back on.

The scene did not even last a full half minute, showing a girl exiting a large red brick building with a number of other students at the end of the school day, only to sit down at the last step, waiting for her mother. As the camera pulled back to show more of the yard, it revealed the name of the school, a major clue and after a quick Internet search it confirmed being the very school I attended.

That very evening I posted on my FaceBook page not only pictures of the school and its name, but also my quest for a particular school book, whose story was fresh as the first day I had read it. While it may seem childish wanting to locate a copy of one’s schoolbook, it is no different then the yearning of going back home where one grew up.

That very evening, Edith Meier, a friend who I have never met in person and only engaged in casual conversation since we befriended, messengered me, sharing the good news that a copy of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten” was found on a German website and that she had purchased the book and was making it a present to me.

I found myself speechless at her kind generosity and for not only bringing to an end my quest but for providing me with the very means to turn back the hands of the clock and try to relive a young boy’s dreams with ever word I read and with every page that I turn. 

We are sentimental beings, clinging to items other find insignificant or even  useless, only because it has a special personal meaning for us. I have not much from my childhood then these few school books, which I hope one of my children will hold on to after my passing, telling the story of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten” to their children and what this book had meant to me as a boy. Sharing with new generation the excitement of adventure and the desire to explore the unknown, paving out a path of ones own.

Apart from the many paintings I created, the books I illustrated or designed as a graphic designer and photographer, the paint boxes and brushes, there are also the few German school books, an atlas, and of course Edit’s gift of “Hans Bei Den Wasseratten” that will be part of the treasures that just may inspire another young impressionable person.

In your case it might be a fountain pen, which guided the ink over many a pages of a journal or drafted a book. The item that is revered can even be a box of tools that build a chicken coop; a musical instrument, even sheets of music of an original score a family member wrote that are the bases of the telling of a story and keeping alive the memory of that person. And while through it’s retelling over the years the story takes on a different direction from when it was first told, it is not the story but the words themselves and the magic they hold that is important in passing along a memory.

All photographs taken with an iPhone 4S by
©2014 Egmont van Dyck - All Rights Reserved

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