March 7, 2009

The Skillet


I’ve been thinking about how much rain they’ve had in the Sacramento area this past week. I was also thinking about the act of adding spice, and the irony of the phrase: “spice of life.”

This photo — taken at a tent city in Sacramento — has a real Depression-era feeling to it. These Farm Security Administration images by Dorothea Lange (1, 2, 3) were all taken in Sacramento. This last one shows a family’s food supply. (Click on photos to enlarge.) And here are a few more images from the tent city above.

(Update 1: I wanted to add this reaction from the discussion thread by Public Sphere given how closely and elegantly it hews to the photograph:

Big job losses have hit the male population harder in this recession, and woman have become a much larger share of the working population over the last 30 years. Behind the concrete in the lower right we see plastic bags and a bottle of what looks like cooking oil. Seen in such close proximity to the skillet, it brings to mind a chain of associations: from the health risks (macro and micro) of subsisting off processed food, the impacts of our farming and food distribution systems, to the environmental consequences of a disposable culture which produces garbage. In the mid-ground, the tent city sits on uneven ground; the lack of steady, solid homes in this tilted landscape speaks volumes about Mortgage industry and how the country got here. That sloping line is reinforced by the power lines overhead. Energy production and consumption will be powerful themes in our new economy. There is a strong contrast with the complete lack of electric power consumption in the cooking in the foreground. I wonder, will those power lines carry new energy or will they remain emblems of an old technology? Finally, the heavy clouds looming close overhead lends the palpable feeling of imminent downpour from sources they can’t control (financial or otherwise). Its frightening how real this photo feels.)

(Update 2: food supply link corrected. Also, here is an expanded list of FSA images Lange made in Sacramento)

(image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images. March 4, 2009. caption: Newly homeless couple Tammy Day and her husband Keith Day cook potatoes over a campfire at a homeless tent city in Sacramento, California. The tent city is seeing an increase in population as the economy worsens and more people are becoming unemployed and having their homes slip into foreclosure.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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