Reading Prompt Due Sunday by 5pm

In the introduction to “You Have Seen Their Faces,” Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke White state the following:

No person, place or episode in this book is fictitious  but names and places have been changed to avoid unnecessary individualization; for it is not the authors’ intention to criticize any individuals who are part of the system depicted. The legends under the pictures are intended to express the author’s own conceptions of the sentiments of the individual’s portrayed; they do not pretend to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons.”

Please comment on the notions of: “unnecessary individualization, ” “the authors own conceptions of the individuals portrayed” and “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons” presented here.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Reading Prompt Due Sunday by 5pm

  1. Elana says:

    The purpose of these photos for Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke White was not to tell the individual stories of their subjects. Rather, it was to tell an overall story of life in the South in the 1930s. Thus, the notion of “unnecessary individualism” is that Caldwell and Bourke-White thought it would be unnecessary to discuss any nonfictional name or place because it would call attention to the individuals in the picture while the viewers were only supposed to pay attention to the overall theme and no independent photo. It was as if the subjects in the photos served as models. Models take on different characters as they pose for the photos. While in that role, the events of their personal lives are irrelevant. So too, the subjects of the photos were models “posing” to tell the story Caldwell and Bourke-White chose to tell. “The authors own conceptions of the individuals portrayed” may have been far off from the actual reality of the subjects. However, that was irrelevant because they were only “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons.” These subjects/models did not represent themselves at the moment the photos were taken. Rather, they represented any and all sharecroppers, blacks, farmers, etc. of the South. The idea was not to tell a factual story. The idea was to tell an historical fiction story with these photos so that people of the world can understand the situation of the South as a whole through fictitious quotes and stories that resemble those of real people in the South.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      But isn’t this contrary to the whole photographic undertaking? How can a photo strip an individual of their individuality?

  2. Because of this part of the book, I could not like “You Have Seen Their Faces”. It seemed to me inherently manipulative and intentionally misleading. The photographs of these people have been taken out of context and distorted to serve the purposes of the authors.
    The “unnecessary individualization” means that the authors did not wish to convey the actual lives of each person in their photographs, they wanted to convey an idea they had in their minds and advertise a social problem they perceived in Southern society. They neither needed nor wanted photographs of these specific people, they simply needed an image of a person in order to better prove their point. This phrasing suggests that the changing of names and places has little to nothing to do with protecting the privacy of the people involved, but to conceal the sources of the authors’ information so that if they have distorted the truth, it will be difficult to know. They did not want individualization because they were aiming to tell a broad, generalized story. But, this desire does not change the fact that each person in each image is an individual.
    “The authors own conceptions of the individuals portrayed” is stating that all of the captions underneath the images were created by the authors, and likely have no bearing to the actual subjects of the images. And despite the fact that it says they “do not pretend to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons”, all of the captains are placed in quotations and written in the first person, appearing as if they are quotes from the people in the pictures. While from this paragraph the readers know there is no connection between the subjects of the images and the words, that is how they are presented throughout the essay. I think this severely limits their ability to tell a truthful story. The captions do not accurately represent the photographs, and while they may generally represent life in the South, they an invention of the author’s made to manipulate the audience’s interpretation of the photographs.
    Their intention seems to have been to raise awareness of the plight of sharecroppers and to incite a change to the system, and I can’t find fault in this. However, I feel that their methods were disrespectful and dehumanizing to their photograph’s subjects. It may be that it was necessary in order to cause action to be taken, but I am not sure that the authors were justified.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      This project has often been compared to Agee and Evans’. Here, the photographer and the writer basically dapple in generalities, while Agee and Evans force you to consider the subjectivities, both of the authors, but also of the photographic subjects.

  3. alangdon93 says:

    In “You Have Seen Their Faces,” The photos are mere illustrations to the captions. The faces in the photographs are not meant to be “individualized.” The faces of a few are used as symbols for Caldwell’s and Burke-White’s generalized perception of “the Southern extremity of America, the Empire in the Sun, the Cotton States, it is the Deep South, Down South, The South” (1). The authors want us to associate a few pictures to the whole South, the whole system of sharecropping, the corruption of Southern politicians, and racism. Beginning from the introduction, the authors state their intention to create a general view of their own perception of the South.
    Based off of that information, this text could add a simplified perspective but I do not consider it a historic and accurate depiction of the large and complicated issues in puts into its fifty-four pages.
    The authors admit to using the “legends” to illustrate or to guide the reading of each photograph. Photographs contain an inherently ambiguous quality. In this book, the captions clarify the ambiguity and make them come alive. However, this new persona added to the pictures can lie, the words are not “reproducing the exact sentiments of those individuals” in the text. Rather, the words are being imposed to show the photographer’s gaze and interpretations, however shallow, stereotypical, or misunderstood the photographer’s interpretations are.
    The introduction acts as a disclaimer. They are releasing an ethical responsibility to the individual and to telling his/her story accurately. The disclaimer, the small print, allows the authors to play by their own rules, without consequence. They are not claiming academic prowess/peer reviewed status with this book, they are merely showing their opinion and their perceptions. The introductory disclaimer influenced my read of the book from historic accuracy to more of a story that is meant to teach a lesson or inform. Not one hundred percent accurate but encourage someone to get actually informed and take action.

  4. knkern94 says:

    In “You Have Seen Their Faces”, Caldwell and Bourke-White have eliminated the idea of an individual subject for the narrative they present. The story of the Great Depression and the struggle of these share croppers is an overwhelming theme that cannot be justified by just one person’s story. Encompassing many people without any names or specified contexts better connects the photos. Overall, this little introductory blurb is kind of a waiver by the authors to make clear what they are doing and not be reprimanded for it. When they note “unnecessary individualization” I believe they are trying to say that even if captions and names were included, it would not make a difference in getting across the point of the narrative. In fact, it might hinder. When they say “the authors own conceptions of the individuals portrayed” it is as though they are stating the same idea that Mohr talked about with the importance of the photographer. The narrative that these two set up is of their own creativity and with their own purpose, meaning that their decisions are of upmost importance when it comes to how we interpret the narrative (both photos and text); however, what if our idea of the photo is different? Or we would have placed a different quotation? That leads into how the texts added with the images are not “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons.” Although the captions and stories relate to the image fully, the full emotion and tragic scenery of the photos says enough for them entirely. The short amount of text is obviously not supposed to replace the true stories behind the images. These “sentiments” being portrayed come out in the images with the techniques Caldwell and Bourke-White used in documenting the lives of these people. All of the share croppers’ stories create an overarching history, a photo narrative, and a theme for spectators to come to terms with when looking through this book.

  5. shjones says:

    Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke White’s decision to avoid “unnecessary individualization” and instead portray the “authors own conception of the individuals” is one that renders “You Have Seen Their Faces” devoid of almost all of its value. As an objective and factual piece it is certainly now useless. The presented paragraph practically admits that the purpose of the book is to be manipulative. It is possible that the authors were fighting for a good cause with this manipulation, but all the same the depictions of the people were not true. In addition, by including the waiver, the authors devalue any further advocacy for the South. Future critics can point to the work and argue that the portrayals of conditions in the South are fictitious, because the most famous ones are admittedly so. In a less practical sense, I understand what the authors were trying to do. They felt that they did not know their subjects well enough,and that it was not their place to put words in their mouths. Thus, they present their own interpretation of the photographs, as opposed to what the subjects in the pictures may have themselves voiced. However, I think the book would have been much more effective if it was accompanied by true stories that were probably none less horrifying than those fictitious ones presented. It would be acceptable if there was “individualization”, as long as all sides were presented: that of the white tenant, the black tenant, and of the landlord.

  6. The introduction of “You Have Seen Their Faces” adds a different dimension to the discussion of photographer’s intent that we have been having this semester. The first phrase, “unnecessary individualization” seems to indicate Caldwell and White’s desire to make their photographic essay more accessible to the observer. If the photographs are specific to a certain person, they seem to believe, the universality of said photographs will be undermined. This desire is echoed with the phrase “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons”. Caldwell and White do not want the observer to presume that they can presume to know anything about the subjects of the photographs. They recognize that the photograph is a lens through which to view reality, not a window, and thus pretending to present the whole truth would be facetious and disrespectful to the subject and to the viewer. Their sentiments are complicated, however, by the phrase “the pictures are intended to express the author’s own conceptions of the…individuals portrayed”. Thus, Caldwell and White have seen to it that the photographer is not an unimportant, invisible part of the process of photography. Rather, they frankly admit that the photographs should be seen not as reality but as the author’s idea of reality instead. It seems that Caldwell and White seek to present a reality that feels real rather than a reality that is factually accurate.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      Yes — they seem to be realists engaging with the limitations of what a photograph can offer. But might there have been some way to either let the photos speak for themselves, or to actually try to elicit the words of the photographic subjects, instead of making them up?

  7. joezim1994 says:

    Bourke-White and Caldwell take an ethically ambiguous approach to photographing the poor. They feel that individualization in “unnecessary” because they are trying to show the collective suffering of the South without any direct focus on specific individuals. They seem to feel that this universalizes their cause (of making known the failed system in the South), but really it only seems to depersonalize it and give primacy to the cause rather than to the individuals that are affected by it. As a way to further their goal, the authors fabricate captions that, while they are clearly stated to have been faked in the introduction, seem to be posing as real in the text itself. This quick statement at the beginning is easily missed and forgotten, as in the body of the book the fictionalized lines that are attributed to the actual people photographed are presented in quotes and as the only textual support to the photographs. These “conceptions of the individuals portrayed” ultimately just reinforce the way that Bourke-White and Caldwell have supplanted the people for the cause: they go so far as to make them mere characters that voice fictitious opinions to serve the authors’ purposes. They claim they are not “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons” yet this appears to be meaningless; it is exactly what they are doing, except perhaps it is even worse considering that the sentiments of these real people are replaced by fictionalized sentiments that serve the narrative alone. The photographer and author have done what many others have to put together a photographic essay: they have forced themselves into the lives of others to capture them in photographs, but what seems different here is that their exploitation of the people does not end in the image: they even make up words for them. The photographer and the author seize the individual for their own.

  8. You Have Seen Their Faces is an extreme example of the operator having ultimate control over a spectator’s perception. Caldwell and Bourke-White began their endeavor under the pretense of documenting the conditions of sharecroppers, but only presented their own very limited perspective on the situation.
    When they write about “unnecessary individualization” the authors refer to the fact that they don’t strive to show the actual stories of the people they photograph. It is easy to pigeonhole subjects into stereotypes; uneducated black workers, ruthless white landlords, happy-go-lucky farm children, and depressed sharecroppers. Rather than admitting that every person depicted is a complex individual with different experiences, thoughts, and feelings, Caldwell stereotypes them to simplify his understanding of the situation.
    By only presenting the author’s perceptions of the individuals portrayed, it misleads the spectator. This book is assumed to be a photographic narrative in a documentary style, but the captions and pictures are not accurate. Caldwell describes their process of capturing images as waiting around until “their faces gave us what we were trying to express…before they knew what had happened” (51). By waiting for the subjects to do what they wanted demeans them to puppets. The voice of the operators completely drowns out the real, more compelling voices of the sharecroppers.
    As a successful writer and photographer, spending a few days in the sharecropping south, there is no way that Caldwell and Bourke-White could grasp the severity of the situation as much as someone who has lived in the system their whole life. Therefore “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons” is an insult to sharecroppers’ circumstances. It would have been far more effective and compelling to let the subjects actually tell their story rather than inject generic captions such as ”I think it’s only right that the government ought to be run with people like us in mind” or “poor people always get passed by.”

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      I agree! How can the authors know better than the people what to say about their situation? At the same time, this is a literary work and one always has to stylize language to some extent to make it say what you want it to say. Right?

  9. clairetomaszewski says:

    What Caldwell and Bourke-White do in “You Have Seen Their Faces” reminds me a little of what we did the first day of class. We saw the pictures and added our own caption to tell the story. Caldwell and Bourke-White do this in reverse; they have the story they want to tell and use the photographs to illustrate it. They do not take into account the real story of the subject of the photograph, or rather, they are not “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons.” This would cause “unnecessary individualization” because Caldwell and Bourke-White wanted to express the general life and feelings of the entire South, not the life of an individual. When reading this book, one will automatically attach the caption to the picture and imagine that person doing what is described in the caption. The disclaimer was added for privacy and legal issues, but also so that the reader is fully aware that the photographs are used as aids in understanding what Caldwell and Bourke-White have written, not as true evidence. For anyone that used found images for their photographic narrative, they did the same thing as Caldwell and Bourke-White. We had a story we wanted to tell and used images that expressed that story, even if those pictures do not match our narrative when put in the context of when they were taken.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      If this is not “true” evidence, then what kind of evidence would it be? This might be an interesting distinction in reading this book.

  10. Within “You Have Seen Their Faces” and the notion of unnecessary individualization is extremely misleading throughout the concept of this book. The notion of keeping individuals out of the equation would mean that they seek to generalize the south and to take their own experiences with the sharecroppers as a template for every sharecropper of the South. This misleads the reader in that it does not lend anonymity to the work. In fact, the use of captions and fictitious places serves to do the opposite. These invented places and thoughts are extremely unethical and disheartening. Caldwell and Bourke-White are putting their own thoughts and reactions to the process onto the subjects within the photographs. This is especially disturbing when taken into context with some of the captions. Such as the last photograph of the wrinkled man with an absent look on his face where the caption read, “It ain’t hardly worth the trouble to go on living.” This caption is not only presented as a quotation or an actually spoken statement but it also is putting a stigma and thought onto a face that they are trying to make anonymous. If one were to truly keep the subjects anonymous, Caldwell and Bourke-White would have done better to strip the captions and pseudo-toponyms in favor of a more honest presentation of the rural South. Not only do they disregard the actual thoughts and feelings of the subjects in favor for their own interpretation, they also have the whole say of the text in order to convey their own thoughts as well. It seems extremely selfish and unnecessary for them to invent the subject’s thoughts when one clearly has the whole forum of the text as well. It just does not make much sense unless they devalue the subject so much that they are willing to objectify them to untruthful statements.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      Yes, and as we will discuss in class, that last caption actually contradicts an earlier one of the same photograph. You can look at this as an oversight, or as a clue to how very self-conscious they were of the fictionality of their undertaking — that even the narratives that can span across the different photographs don’t.

  11. shulamitshroder says:

    Esrkine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White’s You Have Seen Their Faces is a book with a very definite agenda. The authors wanted to show America the hardships endured by people living in dire poverty in the South and to press for reforms and programs to make the lives of these people more bearable. To accomplish this lofty goal, they took pictures of Southerners and then put captions under the photographs. These captions appear to be quotes from the people in the photos – there are even quotation marks around them to further the impression. Thus, the authors’ claim that they are not pretending to “reproduce the actual sentiments” of the people in the photographs comes across as invalid, as blatantly false. If the authors did not want to appear to be quoting their subjects, to be reproducing their thoughts and feelings, then they would not have captioned the photographs the way they did.
    The authors also declared that they changed the names and places of stories they told to prevent “unnecessary individualization.” This appears to be counterproductive to their aims. They mean to flesh out and make real the stories of impoverished Southerners so that people elsewhere can understand their plight and be moved to action. By removing the context from the photograph – by deciding upon their “own conceptions of the people pictured” – they turn the people into symbols of poverty, of racism, of disease. Instead of raising them up, of proving their innate humanity, the authors end up dehumanizing the very people they mean to save.
    Caldwell and Bourke-White meant to make a point with their book – and it was made. The way they treated the subjects of their photographs, though, undermined their credibility and their ability to make their message resonate with the reader/viewer.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      They made their point, but what points were they unable to make because of their fictionalization of the voices of their subjects?

  12. The notions presented in the introduction to “You Have Seen Their Faces” by Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White express a fear in the author’s part of the power of the photograph. Taking the three concepts presented in consideration out of context, they seem to imply that the authors were not confident or willing to use their photographs as depictions of their own representations, whether it is because they feel their book will not live up to their visual impact or because the authors are using the photographs as adornments and generic visualizations for their rhetoric. On the other hand, considering the state of the art of photography at the time and the seldom application of photographic narratives, it is fair to speculate that the authors felt uncomfortable letting the photographs have some individual standing specifically because they felt inexperienced and intimidated using these actual representations of those which existed.

    The concept of “unnecessary individualization” implies that the authors think it is unethical for the narrative to use express the existence of the photograph’s subjects. The attempt to inject the authors’ conception into the portrayed under the notion that not doing so would constitute as trying “to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons” demonstrates the fear they have that using the photographs directly would misrepresent them. Unfortunately, by manipulating the photographs as the introduction suggests, the authors could only paradoxically do what they fear to accomplish, which is misrepresenting and robbing the photographs’ subjects of their own depictions. What happens to photographs in this system is that their essential nature as a direct link to something that actually was becomes conflicted in the attempt to avoid that link when used in another setting, this case being a narrative. The author’s attempt to avoid “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments” is impossible because the images in the photographs cannot escape their own representations. If the authors were to offer their own conceptions of the photographs as a substitute for letting them stand on their own, the “actual sentiments of these persons” would then be blatantly misrepresented in the intent to avoid bringing them in as subjects.

  13. Emily Schweich says:

    In a “disclaimer” published at the beginning of the book, Caldwell and Bourke-White emphasize that the mission of this photographic narrative is to capture the struggles of the collective. Instead of capitalizing on one person’s hardships and accusing that person of incompetence, they contend that the individuals photographed and the issues that are chronicled are representative of an entire population.

    The photographs chosen and the captions used have been tailored to reflect Bourke-White’s and Caldwell’s mission. Bourke-White and Caldwell state clearly at the beginning of the novel that the photograph’s captions were meant to express their own views and not to present those of the subjects photographed. Thus, viewers’ perceptions of the photographs they took are shaped, and in some ambiguous cases, greatly skewed by the captions posted underneath the photos. In addition, the photographs chosen were taken with a motive in mind. In Margaret Bourke-White’s notes on her photographs at the end of the novel, she wrote, “It might be an hour before their faces or gestures gave us what we were trying to express, but the instant it occurred the scene was imprisoned on a sheet of film before they knew what had happened” (Caldwell and Bourke-White 187). The key words “trying to express” expose the operator’s motive for this photographic narrative. Even when the subjects spoke openly, Bourke-White searched for moments that would best capture the story she wanted to tell.

    Bourke-White and Caldwell had good intentions for creating this photographic essay – to expose the blight of sharecroppers, the effects of racism and the class divisions that persist in the South. However, their careful manipulation of photo and legend clouds the power that this narrative could have had if it had more candidly documented the lives of Southerners.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      Although in reading testimonies by photographers and others (like Stryker) I can’t help but revise my sense that “true” photographs are spontaneous. Many photo essays are told through photographs that have been manipulated to tell a particular story. Bourke White and Caldwell just took that to the next step and also manipulated the statements that were made.

  14. esrayagoub says:

    From what I gathered I think the book was meant to capture and era of time, not a particular story. I presume that is why the authors stated that they wanted to avoid unnecessary individualization. Had the captions been accurate, the story would have been about the people in the photographs. It would leave the reader feeling empathy for a specific set of individuals, rather than a region as w whole. Despite that the novel still used names, but they weren’t the focus. Each of the written sections began with a few paragraphs about what the average unnamed person would go through. The individual stories, from my perspective, were merely examples, to prove the previous words were true.

    The photo-story parts of the novel had captions that were “the authors own conceptions of the individuals portrayed.” The introduction also states that the book faced heavy criticism in part because of that. Although I understand how “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons” seems unethical, I don’t believe it crossed that line. Photographs are meant to evoke some kind of an emotion or reaction. The authors merely put their reaction in words.

    Overall, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of fictional stories and photographs that were actually taken during the depression. I thought it effectively captures the troubles and hardships of the era as a whole. The photos were meaningful, but not excessive, and the text was well written and not overly detailed.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      yes — one of the great paradoxes of photography is that it captures the individual beautifully and because of that, it is an especially good vehicle for articulating the collective. I am glad you felt that this book did a good job of straddling the two.

  15. sjfrazier015 says:

    The idea of “unnecessary individualization” is attempted to be protected in this piece because the notion of this book in the first place is not to put a spotlight on individual people but rather to show the conditions of a group of people as a whole. And although this was the idea, I don’t think that it was done, or is even possible. This book was sold all over the nation to anyone who had access to it and it continues to be circulated today. When these pictures are being distributed all over the nation to people of all walks of life, it is impossible to keep these people anonymous. I do not think that this should have discouraged the project but I think it is a little audacious to attempt to avoid “unnecessary individualization.”
    Also, the notion of keeping “the authors own conception” as the main focus is kind of sneaky. The strife of these people is very possibly twisted and recreated in order to depict only what the author wants. The honesty and reality of the photo collection and the real lives of those depicted is being warped and for this reason, you cannot really trust the photos. But then again, we as spectators have come across this problem many times, even during this class.
    But in contrast, I think it is humble to think of your photographic endeavor as “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons.” No person other than those directly effected by the time of the Farm Securities Act can fathom the lives of those depicted in “You Have Seen Their Faces.” By thinking of your project as such makes it easier for critical readers like my to sympathize for the authors, photographers, subjects of this book.

  16. he notion of “Unnecessary Individualization,” gives the idea that the author does not want the subject or the emphasized area of the photo to have a name or a given face. Often times when this happens, the spectator may lose sight of what is actually trying to be said from the photographer’s intent. When something is individualized it puts all the other facades of the photograph in jeopardy and causes the spectator to build an unnecessary attachment to the individualized subject. As photographers, Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke White do not want the spectators to be distracted from the composition and story of the other parts of the image, so an avoidance of “necessary individualization,” would be the best way to neglect the whole story in a given image.

    When referring to the quote, “the authors own conceptions [of the sentiments] of the individual’s portrayed,” it does parallel to Jean Mohrs view that the photographer has control over the story that is told to the spectators and that the photographer is the vehicle for the vision of the image. The authors of You Have seen Their Faces felt that is was their job to create the “Legends” from the sentiments of the people that they photographed. However, this is very deceiving and directly contradicts with the title of this book. Have we really seen these people’s faces when the information that is told about these people is false? Are we just looking at these people’s faces through the false stories of the photographers? I don’t think we could truly “See” and get some sort of understanding of the people depicted in the book when the authors are the ones who created their story. In this way, this takes out the reality of the photograph and makes it as made up as a painting. In the beginning of the paragraph it reads, “No person, place, or episode in this book is fictitious,” but it reality, when the only information to the viewer is fake, the people in the images do have a sense of fictitiousness.

    When the authors state, “Pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons,” spurs a little bit of confusion. If they are not intending to to reproduce the actual sentiments, what is the point of putting false information? The assumption that is made from here is that the authors are putting more spotlight on themselves than the actual people in the photos. It feels similar to a situation if a star of a movie was not credited. I understand that a lot of their intention to change the information is motivated to protect the people depicted, however, at the same, the spectators may not feel as emotionally compelled about the picture if they know that the information provided for them is false. How can you get emotionally connected to something that is not real?

    The photographs in this book are incredibly compelling, but when the viewer does not have any truth to the subjects, feathers are unruffled.

  17. Ross Fasman says:

    What varies within the Caldwell and White story, as opposed to the other authors we have read, is the stylistic presentation of the book. The presentation of the book reminded me a lot of the “Newseum” discussion we had.

    When we discussed the “Newseum”, I think we were uncomfortable with the idea of the presentation of news photography because despite the varying “punctum”, the caption and story and context seemed forced upon us. There seemed to be an objective reality that the “Newseum” was trying to hint at: the objective reality being only what the news provided and it from this fact that I think we had trouble dealing with. I think we were uncomfortable because we as humans fear manipulation and the news sometimes can seem manipulative. To me, however, Caldwell and Bourke-White succeeded TREMENDOUSLY with manipulation by simply organizing the story differently.

    The italicized text before each chapter reminded me a lot of the “Newseum” discussion for two reasons. 1.) There was different commentary of the same thing: one from a farmer, another from a banker, another from a landlord. Which, comparatively, is the same news story, however, different angle. We often get this in the news because both are being presented simultaneously; text and an individual and as such we can easily get both. Which brings me to my second reminder: 2.) manipulation. The news often seems manipulative for that reason. We get what we are presented with.

    In Caldwell and Bourke-White’s narrative, however, the photograph and text are stylistically separated despite it being the same story. This is why I think they succeeded in removing “unnecessary individualization” and “to express the authors own conceptions of the individuals portrayed”. The faces are inherently individualistic and subjective and the text is broad, vague, and objective.

    The removal of the individual’s name yet the inclusion of the individual’s story gave it more “oomph” because it forced us to remember that it does belong to SOMEBODY yet we don’t know whom. Then by providing only the faces to the text at situationally different pages, we in turn remember that each story is uniquely humane and everything begins to mesh together. In other words, by providing different means at different locations, it forces us to go back and forth (from face to text and back to face) by manipulating the way we interact with the book which then reminds us of the actuality of the story. I thought it was an absolutely GREAT way to tell a story and I came away very impressed from the book for this reason. And to me, the success at this textual-photograph manipulation allowed them to succeed with the motif of “unnecessary individualization, ” “to express the authors own conceptions of the individuals portrayed” and “(not) pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons” and to represent the actual story of the Great Depression and the individual. Because in the end, despite very few references to names, and the mention of towns and states instead of people, “We Have Seen Their Faces” and the story comes back to life.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      Are yo focusing on the stories that are told in the long narratives and how they don’t match up exactly with any particular image in the book, or are you talking about the captions under each photograph? It seems to me that the two texts function very differently, and that it is not quite as shocking to have mismatch between the photograph and the longer text in order to make the point about SOMEBODY, as you put it, but the fictionalization of the statements directly under each image is a different story altogether.

  18. megmck12 says:

    unnecessary individualization, ” “the authors own conceptions of the individuals portrayed” and “pretending to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons

    Caldwell and Bourke-White purposed to create a piece of work that captures the essence of the South, using the tools of narratives that are both historical and fictional and of genuine images of the South itself. The opening lines of text describe the South as a living, moving organism, setting the stage for the South to be described as a whole–this signifies that the description needs to be balanced between detailed and generic. The anonymity of the style of writing removes any “unnecessary individualization”, allowing the South to be described in a way that encompasses nearly all of it while giving the reader a tangible idea of it.

    The fact that the authors were focused on their “own conceptions of the individuals portrayed” made “You Have Seen Their Faces” read very historical fiction for me. The authors wanted to portray their conception of the South, a conception they hold as accurate. Adding a note of historical fiction however, nods to the fact that their depiction of the South is not one size fits all and would vary from narrative to narrative in reality.

    This historical fiction concept also connects to the assertion that the authors were not attempting to reproduce the “sentiments” of the photographed. It reminded me of the liberties historical fiction authors take with real records, names, and family stories when creating their narratives. Similarly, the authors of “You Have Seen Their Faces” imposed these real images of real individuals onto their narrative of the south. The implications of this choice, however, are vastly different than borrowing the name from a real town record. Photographs come with their own set of vivid details, contextual information, and emotions. They are far from a blank slate you can use to develop your own narrative.

  19. maxinesrich says:

    In fulfilling their goal of representing the average life in the American South, Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White insist that they must create stories for the subjects in the images they have compiled in their book, You Have Seen their Faces. The authors, in their introduction, claim to simply make up the captions of their photos, with no “pretend[ing] to reproduce the actual sentiments of these persons.” This fulfills their general painting of their view of the American South, as they may manipulate the subjects of the photos without actually portraying the lives of those pictured.

    Caldwell and Bourke-White also insist that they do not wish to embarrass their subjects by identifying them. This, however, I do not find to be successful. While they do not directly identify their subjects, I still feel that their exposure of their supposed lives (which, of course, are not necessarily true to reality), is very embarrassing. I was particularly struck by the photograph of the family on two pages after the text on page 34 to be highly offensive to the family. The mother is portrayed as a drug addict who spends a good portion of their welfare money on drugs, which, as the authors stated, does “not pretend” to be accurate. Thus, this is an unfair and fictitious characterization of the very real woman in the photograph.

    • Sheila Jelen says:

      I wonder if they were trying to protect the identities of the subjects of their photos or just trying to spare themselves the necessity to interview each one. On the flipside, however, perhaps they are expressing confidence in the truth telling of the photographs themselves independent of any “true” caption.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s