Nov 17, 2011

REVIEW| Documenting America| Amarillo Museum of Art| Amarillo, Texas

Documenting America, Amarillo Museum of Art, 2011
Documenting America is an exhibition currently on view at the Amarillo Museum of Art in Amarillo, Texas. The exhibition is a collection of photographs taken during the Great Depression documenting the life of Americans.  The collection has work by well-known photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, and Russell Lee.

What immediately drew my attention when I walked in to the completely deserted room was the Dorothea Lange photograph, Migrant Mother, with three children. This iconic image was the reason I wanted to go see the exhibit in the first place. Lange stated, “I saw and approached the hungry and depressed mother, as if drawn by a magnet.” I found this interesting because Lange really didn’t know anything about this woman and yet decided to photograph without asking any questions about the woman and her life and assume she was hungry and depressed. Migrant Mother was placed in the center of room alongside other Lange photographs of migratory Americans.  I then traveled around the room taking each photograph in and thinking about the people staring back at me.
Migrant Mother, with three children, Dorothea Lange, 1936
Walker Evans, Graveyard and Steel Mill taken in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was an image I was not familiar with before but became a new favorite amongst the Walker Evans collection.  This was one of the few photographs drained of people but still eerily beautiful. At first I didn’t think the image really fit in with the rest of the photographs considering they focused on the countryside and the lives of the people struggling to survive. Then I realized that it was perfect because Evans was documenting the people who didn’t survive as well.
Graveyard and Steel Mill, Walker Evans,  1935
 This exhibition was interesting to me because not only were the photographs visually stunning but I learned about the life of normal citizens trying to survive in America during the Depression. Alongside some of the pictures were brief captions from the photographers describing how they felt taking the pictures and what it was like seeing families grow up in such an environment. When taking the time to look and read about each image I started imagining how I would feel if I was the person being photographed and it was heart breaking trying to relate. Each photographer in this collection turned the real-life unsightliness of the Great Depression into beautiful portrayals of people we will never know.
The exhibition room was so pristine with the black and white photographs lining the walls it was as if not only were we looking at the documentary images but also memorializing the people and what they overcame. I appreciated that the room was dedicated solely to the photographs and had nothing else to take away from their presence. The descriptions that went along with the photos told a story and gave meaning to the faces as well as the photographers. It allowed the viewer an insight of the strong emotions America was dealing with. It told us what it was like to be poor and what it was like to upper-middle class. The exhibit told a story of rural and city life of both the living and the dead. 

-Anna Julian


  1. JulieDec 1, 2011 10:36 AM
    That is so awesome that you got to see "Migrant Mother" in person. That is a classic American photo. You said the stories that go along with each photo were included. Do you think the photos would be as strong if we didn't know the back story or original title? Good review of the show; it was simple and to the point.

    -Julie Morrison