"The Tradition: Fact and Fiction" Robert Coles Summary

Essay by KurainokenCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 2004

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In his essay "The Tradition: Fact and Fiction" Robert Coles talks about the works of two photographers, Jane Lange and Walker Evans, examining the process they used to produce their pictures and the artistic decisions they made; the meaning they wanted to convey and the history of their photographs.

Coles places discussion on some of Lange's famous photographs. One photo, the image of the "migrant mother," depicts a poor woman and her two children, dressed in rags. The mother has a tired look on her face and the children have hidden behind her shoulders. Coles also views the other versions on this topic that Lange rejected to better understand what the author of the picture wanted to say. We see a photograph of the tent where the "migrant" family lives, which gives a thorough picture of their conditions of life - no space, no furniture, no hygiene.

If Lange had used it instead of the chosen picture, the audience would have been more aware of the social belonging of the woman. Coles says that Lange made her choice because she wanted to separate the image of the mother from its surroundings, so that the viewers could concentrate on her face, on its expression and the feeling of strained thoughtfulness it expresses .

Coles also discusses the photographs of Walker Evans, who used techniques similar to Lange's to depict the nameless people on the backs of which the society functions. He touches on a picture of a father and a daughter on the porch of their wooden house which has been cropped to present only the father, centering on his face, having an expression of exhaustion and disillusionment that are not so obvious in the big photo. He does so to depict them, their drama and their feelings...