Depression Magazines Photo Essay Photojournalist Fortune Home Page Communism Strikebreaking Wards Wool
The Photo Essay
congress as a business CONTENT AND CONTEXT:   Fortune presented images of America through various types of photojournalism. Luce favored the clean industrial photography of Margaret Bourke-White, but managing editor Robert Ingersoll favored a more personal style. Resting on what Stott refers to as the tripod of photography, captions, and text, photographic essays were self-contained journalist stories. Orvell argues that photography overcomes its limitations when photographs appear in series. Readers believed the pictures they saw were the "real thing" because in series, the images supported each other and provided narrative. The camera was a great reporting tool, lending authority and an easily consumable narrative.

INDUSTRIAL NARRATIVES . . . :   On this site, photographers such as Bourke-White, Arthur Gerlach, and Russell C. Aikins represent the first strain of photography in Fortune's pages. These artists used the industrial aesthetic to take pictures of the structures of business and modern invention. Industrial photographs can be cold because they focus on their human subjects as button pushers or parts of the capitalist assembly line instead of as individuals. This omission was a deliberate choice made for the artistic aesthetic but also to protect the optimism of Fortune's pro-business audience. Industrial photograph's primary effect was to raise their subjects to an artistic level. These art works took industry--fearful and ugly--and made it awesome and beautiful. To Luce, industrial photographs captured the strength, power, and romance of business. Fortune sometimes displayed industrial photographs in a portfolio format, as if Fortune were an art photography magazine. Portfolio images had striking aesthetic beauty and helped establish Fortune as an artistic venture. As Sass describes, the corporation story integrated a series of industrial images and a textual analysis of the company's structure to focus on the narrative history of a business. The essay on Montgomery Wards elevates efficiency as an American ideal while glorifying an anonymous assembly line. The Senate story legitimizes the body's wealth by equating a Senator's hard work with the traditional Protestant work ethic and emphasis on productivity. In order to pass legislation, the congressman himself must suffer "life, death and limbo." Each of these photos served first as a factual document of industry, denoting "this is a worker," or "this is a machine," but ultimately implied something much more powerful. The images and essays connoted that American ideals are manifest in business and bureaucracy.


congressional beauty . . . AND PERSONAL DOCUMENTS:   Because of the work of managing editor Ralph Ingersoll, industrial photography and the corporation story did not enjoy complete reign in Fortune. Ingersoll greatly disliked industrial photography for its constructed nature and cheap tricks, including a low angle of vision (which made architectural structures loom upward impressively), emphasis on minor details (literally ignoring the "big picture" and broader implications), and de-emphasis of human agents. Under Ingersoll's editorship and encouragement, Fortune began to seek out and accept photographers who did not focus on industrial artifice. The development of the miniature camera was greatly aided such shifts in photographic subjects. The precursor to today's 35 mm, equipped with high speed lenses and film, could be carried anywhere to capture spontaneous action on film (Newhall). In order to help Fortune and its photographers learn the style that complimented the miniature camera, Ingersoll invited Dr. Erich Salomon (who came to American in 1929) to join the magazine in New York in 1931. Salomon was already famous in Europe for his candid shots of human subjects and for establishing the photo story in publications such as the German illustrated magazines (Newhall). Salomon's journalistic technique showed individual moments in his subjects' lives, creating greater intimacy and the sense of a personal relationship with the subjects. Such photographs were also documents of types of people in innate settings. The subjects of these documentary photographs were published en masse, each one becoming the prototypical publisher, worker, statesmen, or in the case of the FSA, tenant farmer or shareholder.

DOCUMENTARY TRAJECTORY:   The new documentary technique was useful in journalism but had further implications. By leveling subject matter, photojournalism gave rise to the documentary book, collection, or expose. Included in this category are the populist, humanitarian works of the mid and late 1930s, which were utilized to sway the public's opinion on the agricultural victims of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression economy. The origin of some of the best known of the Depression era collections was a writing assignment requested by Fortune. Editors hired Walker Evans and James Agee (a writer) to complete a photo story on life in the south, for which they traveled to Alabama and stayed with tenant farmers. When the story was dropped for size, time, and explicit content, Evans and Agee agreed to later publish an expanded version entitled, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). Evans earlier work has the same qualities that made his images of the tenant families striking--Salomon's spontaneity, an aesthetic appreciation of details, and the complete absence of pretension or condescension.


photo narrative FACTUAL FAIRYTALES:   Fortune was able to market identities to its audience because, as an advertising enterprise, the magazine carried the burden of showing photographs of American people to themselves. Industrial photographs sold a distinct image of business to America as well, and thus marketed industry as a benevolent player in the American system. While the emphasis of people-based photo stories was generally more spontaneous and democratic than industrial photographs, humanistic photo stories were certainly capable of typifying and romanticizing. The industry photograph, the corporation story, and the photo story each gave evidence of a beautiful and heroic America. Theses images showed American people capable of balancing tradition and change. Walker Evans photographed the Communist Party in 1934 and Peter Stackpole detailed the violence of labor strikes, but each essay espouses the perspective of capitalist, corporate America in consideration of Fortune's elite audience. The problems of the poor and middle-class are washed over by a promise of upward mobility offered by consumerism. No matter the photo essay Fortune published, its photographs gave factual evidence that capitalism and business were synonymous with America.

NEXT: The Photographer as Journalist