Migrant Mother and the Electronic Super highway

New Jersey born Dorothea Lange, originally Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn, was an incredible photographer. Lange was able to catch the human dignity of a person in any dire situation, whether it was economical, social, emotional, or some combination of the three.

Nam June Paik, a Korean born artist, has been considered the pioneer of video art. Paik uses the medium to express the complexities of contemporary culture. This paper will be comparing and contrasting how the Dorothea Lange’s, Migrant Mother, Nipomo Valley, and works by Nam June Paik. How they were created, the statement each is trying to make with their work or works and how society perceived/perceives it.

Lange’s photo known as Migrant Mother is a portrait of a woman and her children in a California migrant labor camp within the Nipomo Valley. It was the last of a series of six photographs that Lange shot in March of 1936. “Lange was concluding a month’s trip photographing migratory farm labor around the state for what was then the Resettlement Administration. Migrant Mother is a Silver Gelatin photographic print, which is widely reproduced for numerous different reasons and in different forms. Seeing as the Migrant mother photograph is a classic picture that is widely associated with Dorothea Lange, and the depression, it is widely sought after to have a copy of. The photograph, which is easily reproducible, has been made into postcards, posters, magazines, newspapers, films, pamphlets and other collectible items that they can sell.

Nam June Paik was the creator of a national touring exhibition called The Electronic Super Highway. For this exhibition, Paik has created his own town called Cybertown. Cybertown was a new community founded on moving images. Paik’s town, its people, places, and things in it, were all video sculptures. So opposed to the image of the Migrant Mother by Lange, Paik’s small town is less easily reproduced, pretty much not reproduced, unless it’s to be made into a copy of a photograph of the actual sculpture its self.

Dorothea Lange, a resettlement administration, RA, a hired photographer was sent to take pictures of the Great Depression, to show America what was really going on.

At the end of the assignment Dorothea was to photograph the pea pickers in California, which she passed up just thinking she had enough photos and that no one would know. Good thing she didn’t, she got the Photograph that became the iconic symbol for the great depression, and it was the picture of Farm Security. With the Migrant Mother photo, as well as many others, Lange was trying to make a statement as most artists do with their work. She was showing us the real world, in the depression era. What was really out there, what was going on, what it felt like and looked like. Pointing out to us the living conditions of the migrants and others who were trying to get work, where there wasn’t much to be found, also of the people taking the jobs that some people who turn their noses up. Taking what they could get and giving too much labor, for the little amount of what they got back.

Lange’s photographs forced the public sympathy for a necessary relief program and persuaded a reluctant congressional committee to vote in funds for that program. Lange’s intention of social science was to show the waste, cheapness, and cruelty of life in the south, in the central states and in the West. Nam June Paik’s video sculptures were also messages about the society, but of the nineties. The message’s, although meaningful and important, don’t seem as harsh and “down and dirty” Lange’s, showing the real life of some American’s. Paik created Cybertown as his own version of the small town America in the new electronic age of the nineties. A lot of Paik’s first video sculptures were made to represent his family, both blood and artistic families.

In Paik’s Cybertown, he had created what was to be a push cart, like you would see people selling popcorn out of, and turned it into a video cart, which was to represent the rise of consumerism in not only America but Asia too. Paik pointed out that as it was uncommon in the previous years, six out of ten people in Asia owned a TV and washer dryer combo. Paik also pointed a finger at and made fun of how lazy people were becoming. Creating a sculpture in 1994 called the Couch Potato. When the Couch Potato was created, he was wondering how the world was supposed to move and evolve or do anything with the world its fingertips, saying that human evolution was not a necessity anymore. Paik also created a Sculpture that had to deal with how the creation of the internet had changed the mail service forever. Also, Paik was making a statement that unlike regular “snail mail,” email was better not only for the economy, as we don’t use thousands of trees to make all the paper needed, but also you get email in an instant.

When viewing a work of art years after it was made, always changes how someone interprets the work. It may be close to the same interpretation as what the artist originally intended, but never the same. Lange’s Migrant Mother went beyond its life in the Farm Security Administration and created a life of its own, as a powerful and beautiful photograph. Viewers today, see a photograph like Migrant Mother and know it’s a historical photograph, and associate it with the Great Depression. But they don’t get the same feeling knowing that that scenario had been fixed and isn’t happening at the very moment. They see it as a powerful work of art, hanging in galleries. Not as the documentary photograph it is.

Visually, compositionally, and physically the picture is a gorgeous photograph, and that is how most interpret the photo today. Paik on the other hand, still in a way applies to today, seeing as how the electronic superhighway known as the world wide web, today is a very big part of not only the American culture but of most cultures across the globe. Statues such as the Couch Potato and Vidiot Surfer, very much still apply today with the argument of lazy Americans and the cause of obesity. Paik’s sculptures seem dated in some ways with the old TV’s used and the images used to display on the TV’s but they still get the same message across and are interpreted closer to the artists original statement, more so now because of the fact that they were made closer to the present day and really is still debated and talked about.

Over all, for the fact that Dorothea Lange and Nam June Paik were worlds apart in their type of art work they were trying to create, and even in the years that they created them, there are several similarities with the two. They were both revolutionaries, in the art world, Lange more of an icon. They both very successfully took art to the next level, and put meaning behind it, showing us something that they believed in, and getting a message out there to the public. Lange showing her public, of their surroundings, living conditions of those less fortunate close to them, and what they should be happy for. Paik making a statement about the consumer America and how rapidly it’s changing, and how we need to take care of ourselves and be aware that things around us are moving fast, that some things are becoming obsolete. Art is and always be around in some form or another whether it be to look at for pleasure or something to help tell a story. Artists will continue to try and communicate through their art work to the viewer, some sort of something. No matter how many times a work is reproduced and whether its in its original form when you view it or not, will never change the over all message that you get from the work. It may alter it somewhat but never change you perception of the work entirely. Art, photographs, sculptures, paintings, whatever it is will always be a classic form of enjoyment for most cultured people.

End notes:

Meltzer, Milton. Dorothea Lange: A Photographer’s Life. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1978, 3.
Partridge, Elizabeth. Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994, 14.
Illuminations: Contemporary Film & Video Art, http://www.ackland.org/art/exhibitions/illuminations/image6.htm.
Illuminations: Contemporary Film & Video Art, http://www.ackland.org/art/exhibitions/illuminations/image6.htm.
Story Of A Photographic Session: Migrant Mother, http://chnm.gmu.edu/fsa/b/.
Lange’s Migrant Mother in the FSA Collection: An Overview, http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/Depression.htm.
Meltzer, Milton. Dorothea Lange A Photographer’s Life. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1978, 133.
Kleiner, Fred and Chirstin Mamiya, Gardner’s Art Through The Ages, (12th Ed.)
California: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005 797.
Meltzer, Milton. Dorothea Lange: A Photographer’s Life. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1978, 132-133.
Meltzer, Milton. Dorothea Lange: A Photographer’s Life. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1978, 133.
Coles, Robert. Dorothea Lange. New York: Aperture Inc., 1982, 25.
Coles, Robert. Dorothea Lange. New York: Aperture Inc., 1982, 26.
The Electronic Super Highway: Nam June Paik in the Nineties, http://www.eai.org/eai/tape.jsp?itemID=2409.
The Electronic Super Highway: Nam June Paik in the Nineties. Video: 1995, November 29, 2005.
The Electronic Super Highway: Nam June Paik in the Nineties. Video: 1995, November 29, 2005.
The Electronic Super Highway: Nam June Paik in the Nineties. Video: 1995, November 29, 2005.
The Electronic Super Highway: Nam June Paik in the Nineties. Video: 1995, November 29, 2005.

Bibliography

Coles, Robert. Dorothea Lange. New York: Aperture Inc., 1982.

Illuminations: Contemporary Film & Video Art,
http://www.ackland.org/art/exhibitions/illuminations/image6.htm.

Kleiner, Fred and Chirstin Mamiya. Gardner’s Art Through The Ages. (12th Ed.)
California: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.

Lange’s Migrant Mother in the FSA Collection: An Overview,
http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/Depression.htm.

Meltzer, Milton. Dorothea Lange: A Photographer’s Life. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux,
1978.

Partridge, Elizabeth. Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press,
1994.

Story Of A Photographic Session: Migrant Mother, http://chnm.gmu.edu/fsa/b/.

The Electronic Super Highway: Nam June Paik in the Nineties,
http://www.eai.org/eai/tape.jsp?itemID=2409.

The Electronic Super Highway: Nam June Paik in the Nineties. Video: 1995, November 29, 2005.

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