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The Great American Influence: Roy Stryker

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Roy Stryker may not be known for his camera work, but he is probably one of the most influential people in documentary photography.

Roy Stryker

Roy Stryker

Stryker, an economist by training, was the head of the Farm Security Administration’s Historical Section – a U.S. government department that was created during The New Deal. The FSA employed such noted documentary photographers as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks and John Collier Jr. to name a few.

Born November 5, 1893 in Great Bend, Kansas, Stryker was the son of a farmer. He served in the infantry in World War I and when he returned home, he studied economics at Columbia University. He was asked to stay at the school once he graduated to teach economics with his mentor, Rexford Tugwell. The two collaborated on a book, “American Economic Life,” which used an extensive amount of photographs to highlight topics. Even in his lectures, Stryker used photographs from his collection to help bring a “real face” to the theories he was teaching.

Stryker followed his mentor to Washington D.C. as Tugwell was serving on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Brain Trust. Tugwell was appointed as the head of the FSA and made Stryker the head of the Historical Section – the section appointed to document the FSAs initiatives.

Stryker assembled one of the greatest teams of documentary photographers with a single task: document the effects of the Great Depression on the people in the hardest hit areas of the United States.

Although not a photographer himself, Stryker understood the importance of photography as a tool to both document and to influence. With his work with the FSA, Stryker was a singular figure in building one of the greatest collections of documentary images in U.S. history.

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Photographers You Should Know: Wyatt McSpadden

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Information for this article came from Calumet Website and the Website of Wyatt McSpadden

Texas photographer Wyatt McSpadden’s images are impeccable. It doesn’t matter if he’s shooting in color – which are 10 steps past vibrant – or in black-and-white, his images are a good example of photography done well.

McSpadden’s career began in 1976 and he’s still working on his craft. After leaving his native Texas in 1974 for year to study photography in Sacramento, California, he returned to his hometown of Amarillo in 1975.

Stanley Marsh (Photo Credit: Wyatt McSpadden)

Stanley Marsh (Photo Credit: Wyatt McSpadden)

In an interview with Calumet, McSpadden discussed what sparked his interest in photography. He said, “I got interested in photography and had friends who were into it during high school. After graduating in 1970, I went to work for Stanley Marsh—the guy who commissioned Cadillac Ranch. Stanley’s an eccentric millionaire who had a big home out in the country on lots of land. He had a bunch of hippies working for him out there. He also had kids, lots of animals, and was involved in the creation of various art projects, so he always wanted to have a photographer around. One day circumstances were such that I became the official photographer for Toad Hall (the name Stanley gave to his home and headquarters). That’s what put me in the position to document Cadillac Ranch being built. I was always taking pictures of art projects and all kinds of zany stuff that was going on out there. Later, when I was figuring out what I was going to do with my life (instead of remaining a hippie at Stanley Marsh’s house), I started scouting around for photography schools.”

Photography has also helped him in his personal life. McSpadden is married to a former client – Nancy McMillen, who was the art director at Texas Monthly magazine for 23 years. They had a long-distance romance before McSpadden packed up from Amarillo and moved to Austin.

Currently, McSpadden has a book, Texas BBQ, which is a look at a essential element of the Texas life: Barbecue. He has spent nearly 20 years documenting barbecue, in particular the little family-owned cafes they serve up the fresh (real) BBQ.

Photographers You Should Know: Sebastião Salgado

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Information for this article came from The Guardian.

Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado’s took a indirect path to his photography career. He initially trained as an economist, earning a master’s degree in economics from University of São Paulo and working for the International Coffee Organization.

Rwandan refugees at the hospital, run by a team of the Dutch branch of Médecins sans Frontières, Camp at Katale, Zaire. 1994. (Photo Credit: Sebastião Salgado/AMAZONAS Images/CONTACT Press Images.)

Rwandan refugees at the hospital, run by a team of the Dutch branch of Médecins sans Frontières, Camp at Katale, Zaire. 1994. (Photo Credit: Sebastião Salgado/AMAZONAS Images/CONTACT Press Images.)

It was during his tenure with the ICO, he traveled extensively to Africa on missions for the World Bank, which is when he started taking photographs. In 1973, at the age of 29, he stopped working as an economist and began his photography career. Also at that time, he moved to Paris with his family.

Born February 8, 1944 in Aimorés, which is in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazi,, Salgado’s primary photographic emphasis is on workers in less developed nations. He has published four books that encompass his long-term, self-assigned projects: The Other Americas, Sahel, Workers and Migration.

Salgado has also worked with the nonprofit humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders on a 18-month project documenting the African famine. This work led to the production of the Sahel book, which was about a man he met while producing the documentary. The books and a number of photographic exhibitions were created from this project.

Salgado is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and an honorary member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences in the USA. He has also received numerous honorary doctorates and awards for his photographic works including the International Center of Photography’s Photojournalist of the Year in 1988 and the Ema and Victor Hasselblad Award for Life Achievement in 1989.

Photographers You Should Know: Gordon Parks

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Information for this article came from Legends Online.

If anyone questions photography’s ability to shape opinions, views and to visually speak for the minority and oppressed, then that person has never viewed the images of Gordon Parks.

'American Gothic, 1942,' by Gordon Parks

'American Gothic, 1942,' by Gordon Parks

Born November 30, 1912, in segregated Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks became fascinated with photography at the age of 25. He purchased his first camera at a pawnshop and quickly got a job photographing a catalog for a women’s department store. Soon, he moved to Chicago where he was a high society photographer and a portrait photographer.

He moved from job to job,all the while documenting the Chicago’s South Side black ghetto. In 1941, an exhibition of these photographs earned him a fellowship with the famed Farm Security Administration.

During the course of his first day at the FSA, he made what arguably could be considered his most recognized photograph: American Gothic, 1942. This image was made completely by chance. Parks was instructed by his FSA mentor and supervisor Roy Stryker – the same photo editor who worked with Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans – to get acquainted with the Washington D.C. Parks toured the city and found bigotry everywhere – some places made him enter through the backdoor while other businesses completely barred his entrance.

He returned to the FSA building and was told by Stryker to go interview older black residents to see how they dealt with the bigotry. That’s when he met Ella Watson. She mopped the floors at the FSA and she and Parks started a conversation where she explained the bigotry and hatred she felt while living in the nation’s capital. He then asked to take her picture, to which she agreed.

Two days later, Stryker saw the image and expressed concern that publishing the image would bring about political turmoil for the government-ran FSA. Yet, shortly thereafter, the photo appeared on the front page of The Washington Post. The image quickly symbolized the pre-civil rights era.

Parks’ philosophy on photography is elegantly stated in a quote from the legend himself. “Those people who want to use a camera should have something in mind, there’s something they want to show, something they want to say … I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty.”

Life magazine cover of a Parks photo essay on poverty. (Photo Credit: Gordon Parks"

Life magazine cover of a Parks photo essay on poverty. (Photo Credit: Gordon Parks"

After the FSA disbanded, Parks found work as a photographer for Vogue magazine. He later joined with Stryker again, working with him on the Standard Oil Photography Project.

Later, Parks joined the staff of Life magazine after editors there saw a documentary he executed on a young Harlem gang leader. For 20 years, he worked for Life magazine, photographing a variety of topics including Broadway productions, fashion, sports, segregation and portraits.

Parks was not only a tremendous photographer, he was also one of Hollywood’s first major black director. He directed the movie “Shaft” and “Shaft’s Big Score.” He also directed “The Super Cops” and “Leadbelly.”

Parks was also a poet and illustrated the books with his own photography. Furthermore, a self-taught piano player, he composed “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” and “Tree Symphony.” He also regularly played piano in jazz ensembles.

Parks died March 7, 2006 at the age of 93 from cancer.

Photographers You Should Know: Robert Doisneau

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Information for the article was gathered from Robert Doisneau.com

French photographer Robert Doisneau’s work represents street photography, Parisian style.

‘Musician in the Rain.’ (Photo Credit: Robert Doisneau)

‘Musician in the Rain.’ (Photo Credit: Robert Doisneau)

Born April 14, 1912 in Gentilly, France, he studied engraving at the Ecole Estienne in Chantilly. Upon graduating, however, he found that his training was obsolete so he learned photography. He worked in the advertising department of pharmaceutical firm, providing detailed photographic work. He sold his first photo essay in 1932. The essay was about a flea market. The photos were purchased by the daily newspaper, L’Excelsior.

From then, Doisneau worked a variety of jobs: camera assistant to sculptor Andrei Vigneaux; military service and then as an industrial and advertising photographer for the French auto manufacturer Renault in 1934. In 1939, he was fired from the Renault job and he took up advertising and postcard photography to earn a living.

Doisneau worked for the Rapho photo agency prior to being drafted into military service in 1939. He was a soldier and a photographer for the French Resistance and he even had an opportunity to use the engraving training he received, manufacturing fake passports and identification papers. During the war, he photographed both the Occupation and Paris Liberation.

Doisneau’s cover portrait of Pablo Picasso for Life magazine (Photo Credit: Robert Doisneau)

Doisneau’s cover portrait of Pablo Picasso for Life magazine (Photo Credit: Robert Doisneau)

After the war, he worked for Life magazine and took up high society and fashion photography for Paris Vogue magazine. He also photographed many well known artists including Cocteau, Picasso and Leger.

Doisneau died April 1, 1994 in Paris.

Photographers You Should Know: Leroy Grannis

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Information for this article was found at Surfline.

Leroy Grannis is an interesting character. In the 1950s and 60s, he lived what many would consider the perfect life as a surfing photographer during what’s considered the “golden age of surfing.” There were few surfing magazines that didn’t have his name in the photo caption. Then, in the early 1970s, he pretty well dropped out of surfing photography and hasn’t looked back too much since.

Caption: LeRoy Grannis, 1963. A signed, dated 36x36 Chromogenic print of this photograph sells between $12,000-$15,000 US. (Photo Credit: Leroy Grannis)

Caption: Mickey Munoz, 1963. A signed, dated 36x36 Chromogenic print of this photograph sells between $12,000-$15,000 US. (Photo Credit: Leroy Grannis)

Born August 12, 1917, in Hermosa Beach, California, he learned to swim and bodysurf from his father. “Granny” Grannis reached college-age during the U.S. Great Depression and he was unable to afford a college education at UCLA, so he found work at various odd jobs. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1943 (he remained in the active reserves until 1977 when he retired as a major) and in 1946, he landed a job at Pacific Bell Telephone.

During the 50s, he surfed in some competitions but mainly helped out Hoppy Swarts with the newly founded United States Surfing Association. By 1959, he had developed an ulcer – contributed to his stressful job at Pac Bell – and his doctor advised him to find a hobby. Photographer Doc Ball, a close friend of Grannis, suggested photography and the seeds were sown.

His first published photos appeared in “Reef Magazine” in 1960. Grannis developed a device that allowed him to change film while in the water – other photographers had to leave the lineup, head for the beach and change film. He spent the rest of the decade traveling between California and Hawaii photographing some of the world’s best surfers.

Fed up with the increased competition among surfing photographers, in 1971 he quit shooting the surf scene. He tried a stint at hang gliding and made photos with that hobby but due to some injuries sustained in the sport, he gave it up in 1981.

Currently, he lives in Carlsbad, California.

Photographers You Should Know: Louise Dahl-Wolfe

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Information for this article came from the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Born in 1895 in San Francisco, Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s images helped define the post-World War II look of the American woman.

Mary Jane Russell in Dior Dress, Paris 1950 (Photo Credit: Louise Dahl-Wolfe)

Mary Jane Russell in Dior Dress, Paris 1950 (Photo Credit: Louise Dahl-Wolfe)

She studied at the San Francisco Art Institute where she focused on figure drawing, design and painting. She was introduced to photography at the age of 26 and less than a decade later, she had established herself as a professional photographer. She was married to sculptor Meyer “Mike” Wolfe who often constructed the backgrounds for her photo shoots.

In 1933, she and her husband moved to New York where she worked as a freelance photographer. Dahl-Wolfe was a staff photographer for Harper’s Bazaar magazine from 1936 through 1958. She started working for the magazine out of her respect for the magazine’s editor, Carmel Snow and the fashion editor, Diana Vreeland.

Dahl-Wolfe was given freedom to photograph her subjects in her own particular style, which often blended the traditional fine-art training she received at the Art Institute with the new photographic medium. She created images that juxtaposed her models with famous painting or other artworks to create a neoclassic look.

Famed fashion photographer Richard Avedon lists Dahl-Wolfe as a significant influence on his own photography style.