Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
March 7, 2009

The Skillet

Sacramento-homeless.jpg

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.)

  • Susan Abe

    I think the “family’s food supply” link may need to be tweaked.
    Otherwise … I think I’m speechless.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p011168c95498970c PS: Public Square

    I agree this image has the same real gritty reality that exists in those Lange photos. But what makes this image really interesting is how it expresses very current elements in our economic situation. In the foreground a middle aged woman is hunched over a skillet on a makeshift cook-pit. There is a sense of determination and resignation, as she stays focused on the chores of daily life. A man squats close behind, awaiting the results. 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.

  • Andtonio

    Only two things follow from these pictures – CNN did a story on this last night:
    1. This has to be the NEXT destination for POTUS.
    2. Executive order must follow.

  • cenoxo

    Pearls before…

    pallets.
    What would TJ do?

  • lytom

    “Let them eat cake.”
    What happened to all those foreclosed homes? Sitting empty, unused!
    What use are the McMansions with all the space wasted?

  • lytom

    Maybe one thing these people have, others do not…
    compare to
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/7926780.stm

  • thompson

    I can’t believe this is America.

  • charlie

    Hey cenexo,
    I love the juxtaposition of those photos. It makes me hopeful that we have someone as caring and down to earth as Michelle in the White House. Unlike the Bush wives, I could actually see Michelle doing something to help the homeless.

  • cenoxo

    That job may be beyond the reach of any First Lady, no matter how committed, capable, and connected they are.
    It’s a big country: even though Michelle Obama dishes out risotto and volunteer spirit at Washington D.C. homeless shelter

    …way out west California’s Newly Poor Push Social Services to Brink.
    There’s a lot of foreclosures in between.

  • Antonio

    As of Sunday morning, 8:40AM, 8 March, the bare arms official portrait of the First Lady had garnered 19 comments; the picture of several hundred families living in the open covered by flimsy camping tents had managed 9, now 10 with this.
    Draw your own conclusions, please.

  • cenoxo

    Illusion — and the way we wish to perceive, create, and embrace it — is preferable to reality.
    G_d save the Queen: that’s why she’s there.

  • stevelaudig
  • http://justbetweenstrangers.blogspot.com/ acm

    my conclusion is that it had been posted for a couple of extra days by then…

  • travc

    It is simply absurd how many homes are vacant around here (I live near Sacramento), entire sub-suburban sprawl divisions are ghost towns. Yet there are people living in a virtual refugee camp (actually refugee camps typically have many more services) and cost of rent is still very high.
    I wonder what the squatting laws are in the US?
    On the visual side, any bets on how long it takes for someone to organize some sort of protest of homeless in one of the new McMansion ghost-towns?

Refresh Archives

Random Notes