Autumn has begun
Lockdown Reading and drawing
Walker Evans Biography by Belinda Rathbone is a wonderful in depth and detailed piece of writing about the American photographer that established his working process during the 1930’s depression. Alongwith a number of artists and writers he participated and benefited from the Roosevelt New Deal plan to get the economy growing. Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor particularly promoted the involvement of artists in the new deal. Evans was hired on the Resetlement Administration programme, later renamed the Farm Security Administration. The description of the needs of the 30’s that established the FDR programmes has echoes of what we are enduring in the 2020’s. However they were envisaged to be in place for the duration of the financial depression.
In the UK the Covid government has invested in keeping arts organisations, businesses and individuals going through to 2021. Unlike Roosevelt’s programmes there is not a mainstream UK programme to encourage the making of art during the pandemic. Artistic interpretation and documentation of the experience of Covid could be a valuable focus to bring some light to the darkness experienced by so many. It may also establish a legacy of Covid experiences as undergone by so many.
The Evans biography captures many detailed insights into Evan’s motivation to achieve unposed photographs of Americans. He had a number of collaborative relationships with writers. In particular with his foil James Agee resulted in ‘In praise of famous Men’ that described and visualised three sharecropper families in the depression Southern American States. The photographs were ground breaking and effective in creating documentary human evidence of the effects of deprivation to working families during the depression. They have created a legacy. Following the FSA work he went on to use 90 degree cameras and hidden cameras to surreptitiously photograph unposed revolutionary portraits. He made many of these portraits in the NYC subway trains where he travelled with his companion photographer Helen Levitt.
As his character is revealed throughout the biography it becomes clear he was self-centred/motivated/driven to the detriment of long term relationships with women. This is perceived through the eyes of the 21st Century where feminism has to some degree liberated women and men to escape misogynistic attitudes of past generations. We are not at total gender equality by any means. I will now read the biography of Dorothea Lange who was engaged on the FSA programme making many of the iconic images of the time.
As I am reading off site as it were, I have reverted to pencil underlining, which I do not approve of, but needs must. I will go through and transfer important references to ipad and cloud research folder, an erase the pencil marks.
When we could meet, share and que together
Len Sissay making an instagram image at his book signing following his sold out reading from his memoir, My Name Is Why. The audience in 2019 sat next to each other in the MAC Theatre, Birmingham to be moved by his stories of adoption and being a young black kid. Following a Q&A it was announced that a book signing session would take place in the foyer. The queue was round the block! No restrictive social distancing back then. People held their books close and chatted while waiting their turn to have a few words with the man and thank him personally for sharing his experiences and signing their book.
Michael Donkor review: ‘The great triumph of this work comes from its author’s determination to rail against what he rightly diagnoses as this institutionally endorsed disremembering of black and marginalised experience. It is a searing and unforgettable re-creation of the most brutal of beginnings’.
For more about Sissay’s books, plays and poetry visit his website.
100 Years of Justice
100 years. of Justice is an collection of 20 artist’s work reflecting on 100 years of justice delivered by the UK magistrates system. Many themes have been responded to from the past present and future. I contributed two portraits of Magistrates from diverse backgrounds to the Future: Race and Criminal Justice theme.
Due to Covid the exhibition of work is online at the moment but with plans to go live in the coming months.https://www.ma100yearsofjustice.com More next time.