Dorothea Lange ,the story behind her photograph “Migrant Mother”

Dorothea Lange ,the story behind her photograph “Migrant Mother”

Working for the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration, Lange’s images brought the plight of the poor and forgotten—particularly sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and migrant workers—to public attention. Distributed free to newspapers across the country, Lange’s poignant images became icons of the era.

One of Lange’s most recognized works is Migrant Mother . The woman in the photograph is Florence Owens Thompson. In 1960, Lange spoke about her experience taking the photograph:

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.

Lange took seven photos that day, in the course of ten minutes. The last being the famous Migrant Mother . These are the six other photos:

The images were made using a Graflex camera. The original negatives are 4×5″ film. It is not possible to determine on the basis of the negative numbers (which were assigned later at the Resettlement Administration) the order in which the photographs were taken. Extended captions and supplementary textual files relating to this series in the FSA Written Records have not been found.

After Lange returned home, she told the editor of a San Francisco newspaper about conditions at the camp and provided him with two of her photographs. The editor informed federal authorities and published an article that included the images. In response, the government rushed aid to the camp to prevent starvation. 

The woman in the famous Migrant Mother after many years, 1979

  • Florence Thompson (seated) with three of her daughters, (from L. to R.) Katherine, Ruby, and Norma, in 1979—43 years after Migrant Mother


Willy Ronis, the story behind his photograph, Nu provençal (Provençal nude)

Willy Ronis, the story behind his photograph, Nu provençal (Provençal nude)

Ronis’ wife, the Communist militant painter Marie-Anne Lansiaux (1910–91),  was the subject of his well-known 1949 photograph, Nu provençal (Provençal nude). The photograph, taken in a house that Marie-Anne and he had just bought in Gordes ,  showed Marie-Anne washing at a basin with a water pitcher on the floor and an open window through which the viewer can see a garden, this is noted for its ability to convey an easy feeling of Provençal life.

Ronis remembered:

“We had a little stone cottage at Gordes. It was a hot summer, and I was repairing the attic. I needed a trowel, so I came down and there was Marie-Anne standing naked on the stone flags, washing herself from the tin basin. ‘Don’t move,’ I said and, my hands full of plaster, I grabbed my Rolleiflex and took four shots. It was the second shot which I chose.

It took two minutes in all. Miracles exist, I experienced it. I have never been so anxious as when I developed that film. I felt that, if the image was good, technically and aesthetically, it would be a major moment in my life, a prosaic moment of extraordinary poetry.”

* Willy Ronis’ contact sheet of his image “Le Nu Provencal” 

The photograph was a “huge success”;  Ronis would comment, “The destiny of this image, published constantly around the world, still astonishes me.” 

Later in her life, he photographed Marie-Anne suffering from Alzheimer’s disease , sitting alone in a park surrounded by autumn trees.


The other side of Vladimir Nabokov

The other side of Vladimir Nabokov

 Nabokov‘s butterflies

In 1967, Nabokov commented: “The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru. It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all.

” From the age of seven, everything I felt a connection with a rectangle of framed sunlight was dominated by a single passion. If my first glance of the morning was for the sun, my first thought was for the butterflies it would engender.

[…] I have hunted butterflies in various climes and disguises: as a pretty boy in knickerbockers and sailor cap; as a lanky cosmopolitan expatriate in flannel bags and beret; as a fat hatless old man in shorts”.

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

  •  Nabokov as a boy with a butterfly book, 1907 – Nabokov Museum 

It all began over a hundred years ago in the estate of Vyra outside St. Petersburg, where the six-year old Volodya Nabokov caught his first butterfly. He remembered that day just as well as another, eight years later, when he wrote his first poem.

For a St. Petersburg boy who spent every summer in the countryside, butterfly-hunting was nothing out of the ordinary, but for Vladimir this pastime rapidly developed into an absorbing interest. At the age of eight he began reading serious books on entomology from the family library and at nine he already attempted to make his first scientific discovery, writing about it to the leading Russian lepidopterist, Nikolay Kuznetsov.  Kuznetsov’s reply disappointed the young naturalist: it turned out that the insect in question had already been described. But the passionate desire to make his mark in science remained with Nabokov throughout his life, and was finally satisfied in America in 1941, when he at last managed to describe an unknown subspecies.


Nabokov’s drawings


The drawings of butterflies done by Vladimir Nabokov were intended for “family use.” He made these on title pages of various editions of his works as a gift to his wife and son and sometimes to other relatives. In Brian Boyd’s words, “in these highly personal and affectionately playful drawings the scientific accuracy Nabokov needed in thousands of illustrations of the specimens he studied under the microscope was no longer relevant, and his imagination could take flight. In the butterflies Nabokov devised and labeled for Vera he mingles fact and fancy even more sportively than in his fiction.”

None of these drawings portray real butterflies, both the images and the names he assigns to them are his invention. The names often have some connection to the book that the butterflies adorn and, in most cases,  play on words in English and Russian is used: “Paradisia radugaleta”, “Verinia verae”, to name just a few.




Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

No one reads Kerouac better than Kerouac..
“ The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
~Jack Kerouac, On the Road


Self-Portraits / Rembrandt van Rijn

Self-Portraits / Rembrandt van Rijn

  • As quoted in R.v.R. : Being an Account of the Last Years and the Death of One Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn (1930) by Hendrik Willem van Loon


No artist has left  a loftier or more penetrating personal testament than Rembrandt van Rijn. In more than 90 portraits of himself(including over forty paintings, thirty-one etchings and about seven drawings) that date from the outset of his career in the 1620s to the year of his death in 1669,he created an autobiography in art that is the equal of the finest ever produced in literature even of the intimately analytical Confessions of St. Augustine.

To Kenneth Clark,(art historian) Rembrandt is “with the possible exception of Van Gogh the only artist who has made the self-portrait a major means of artistic self-expression, and

he is absolutely the one one who has turned self-portraiture into an autobiography.

Rembrandt’s self-portraits were created by the artist looking at himself in a mirror,  and the paintings and drawings therefore reverse his actual features. In the etchings the printing process creates a reversed image, and the prints therefore show Rembrandt in the same orientation as he appeared to contemporaries. This is one reason why the hands are usually omitted or “just cursorily described” in the paintings; they would be on the “wrong” side if painted from the mirror.

Three phases of  Rembrandt’s self-portraits

Scholars generally divide Rembrandt’s self-portraits into three phases. There are the lively and experimental images that he created as a young artist on the make. In these he explores effects of light as well as bizarre grimaces and facial expressions. Often he appears with a shock of chaotic,tangled hair that could be a visual symbol of his fertile creativity .


Νext come the self-portraits of the 1630s and ’40s,when he appears in middle age ,wearing expensive clothes such as fur-trimmed velvet coats. In these pictures  which are perhaps less pioneering than those that came before or after, Rembrandt presents himself with dignity while showing off the trappings of prosperity ,reflecting the commercial success he was enjoying in Amsterdam.



Finally,after a gap of around seven years when he refrained from the practice ,there are the 15 or so self-portraits of his late years,beginning in 1652. For many people,these are among the greatest artworks that Rembrandt ever produced. Gone are the gold chains and richly embroidered shirts. Instead the artist depicts himself with rugged simplicity and honesty. As a result,these images seem to suggest a refreshing,and strikingly modern,interest in introspection.



Self-Portrait with Two Circles


Lastly i left a masterpiece of his last years.  It is the most ambitious self-portrait in which he is depicted at work. It is notable for its monumentality and for an enigmatic background. In this mysterius work ,we see the master himself,in an unsigned portrait. Behind the painter are the circles that still puzzle art historians about what Rembrandt intended them to mean.The hand holding the brushes is a striking feature in that it is so vaguely depicted.

There has been much scholarly debate about the significance of these circles but no one has come up with a definitive hypothesis. They may symbolise eternity and perfection but the theory which attracts the greatest number of adherents is that they are a symbol, or rather evidence, of artistic skill, in that to draw a perfect circle freehand was traditionally thought to be the ultimate test of draughtsmanship.

It seems as if Rembrandt also gave viewers a role in the creative process:that of using our powers of perception to complete the painting in our head…





Library / Magic mountain – Thomas Mann

Library / Magic mountain – Thomas Mann

Der Zauberberg, first German edition, 1924

The Magic Mountain begins with a short but important introduction. Thomas Mann tells us this will have to be a very long book, since he wants to tell the story of a person, and a person is built up very slowly by important details of his or her past.We learn the most minute details of Hans Castorp’s life and experiences, and thus I think I came to understand him better than virtually any other character I have read of in literature before. Mann is at pains to tell us that Hans Castorp isn’t any sort of special person – just a normal relatively average fellow. And this is true. Hans Castorp is the character around whom the entire long novel spins, yet it isn’t really much about Castorp himself.

Questions of life

The novel explores some of the grandest questions of life, including time, death, disease, and war. Throughout the book,they discuss the philosophy of time so i chose an excellent excerpt concerning boredom..

“What we call boredom is actually an abnormal compression of time caused by monotony–uninterrupted uniformity can shrink large spaces of time until the heart falters, terrified to death. When one day is like every other, then all days are like one, and perfect homogeneity would make the longest life seem very short, as if it had flown by in a twinkling. Habit arises when our sense of time falls asleep, or at least grows dull; and if the years of youth are experienced slowly, while the later years of life hurtle past at an ever-increasing speed, it must be habit that causes it. We know full well that the insertion of new habits or the changing of old ones is the only way to preserve life, to renew our sense of time, to rejuvenate, intensify, and retard our experience of time–and thereby renew our sense of life itself.”

Music plays a major role throughout Thomas Mann’s work

Music’s role

“You have described very nicely an indubitably moral element in the nature of music: to wit, that by its peculiar and lively means of measurement, it lends an awareness, both intellectual and precious, to the flow of time. Music awakens–and in that sense it is moral. Art is moral, in that it awakens. But what if it were to do the opposite? If it were to numb us, put us asleep, counteract all activity and progress? And music can do that as well. It knows all well the effect opiates have.”

In The Magic Mountain, the recently perfected gramophone allows the Berghof people to listen to, e.g., Aida’s final duet with Radames from Verdi’s opera

and to Schubert’s multivalent song “Der Lindenbaum” from the Winterreise , both full of mourning feelings in the view of death. With the last-mentioned song of Franz Schubert  on his lips, the protagonist is told to vanish on the battlefields of World War I.

Mountain scenery at Davos , the novel’s Alpine setting

 “Berghotel Sanatorium Schatzalp”, referred to in the novel

Mann himself was well aware of his book’s elusiveness, but offered few clues about approaches to the text. He later compared it to a symphonic work orchestrated with a number of themes and, in a playful commentary on the problems of interpretation, recommended that those who wished to understand it should read it through twice.

Excellent book for thinking readers..


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