Friday, April 11, 2008

An iconic image of rural poverty

This photo was taken by Dorothea Lange on April 11, 1940. The caption reads "Edison, Kern County, California. Young migratory mother, originally from Texas. On the day before the photograph was made she and her husband traveled 35 miles each way to pick peas. They worked 5 hours each and together earned $2.25. They have two young children... Live in auto camp. " The photo is one of a series taken for an agricultural "Community Stability and Instability" study by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. Taken by Dorothea Lange and Irving Rusinow, the photographs are a record of pre-World War II rural life and social institutions. Of particular interests are images of African Americans in Alabama and Georgia and migrant laborers hired to work in cotton fields in Arizona and California.

Image and text source: National Archives and Records Administration; ARC Identifier 521780


Pat Jenkins said...

bigger contributor to poverty, repressive regimes or mother nature?

E. R. Dunhill said...

Clearly both can cause poverty, but human activities are what we see causing poverty in times that nature provides plenty. Humans have a limited ability to safely and sustainably influence nature, so it becomes important to put attention on the human dimension. We see, for instance, a number of oil-rich states wherein there is a vast disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Nature provides these states with a great deal of wealth, but in some cases their governments perpetuate poverty.
If we pay further attention to how we influence and interact with the natural world, we can also minimize the frequency and degree of "natural" events that cause poverty. In my recent post about baking bread, I made reference to the Dust Bowl, the Maya (the collapse of their kingdoms, really), and to Centralia, PA. All of these are examples of humans ignorantly influencing nature in pursuit of some degree of wealth, but ultimately contributing to poverty for themselves and others.

Pat Jenkins said...

erd are human intiatives the reason for the life threatening rise in food costs we see now then?

Sue said...

I think sometimes that the problem with poverty is that people rely on "iconic images" (whether photographic or mental) and they do not see "the poor" as ordinary people like themselves, who simply lack resources.

When I first began contributing to a group textbook for introductory sociology the editor asked me if I could send him some photos of "Appalachian poverty." I know what he had in mind -- he wanted to see iconic images of shacks or trailers, barefoot blonde children in dirty clothes, men in overalls, and hound dogs on the sagging porch. Instead I sent him the real picture of Appalachian poverty -- neat, two story brick public housing units.