Camera Rolls: 318:64-68
Sound Rolls: 318:33
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Ron Partridge , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 16, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Well, I was, I had, boy, don't get me started—no, we were talking about a number of different things. I guess—I don't know—it's about trying to get to understand Dorothea Lange and what she was trying to do. I, we were talking about "Migrant Mother," a little bit, about—
—and how those pictures take off, and whether she actually understood what she'd done with the picture.
Yes she did. Actually, Dorothea understood everything she was doing. When she made a really good picture, she had a little trick, and that was to make two exposures very quickly. One she put in the foxy pocket, took home, and the other one went in to Stryker, because Stryker had always insisted on their processing film, and Dorothea had always insisted on her processing film. So, she compromised, sometimes she sent it in, but usually I developed the film, and she saved the extra one. Now, she knew about "Migrant Mother" because she made two negatives of it. One negative is in the, in the National Archives or wherever that reposits [sic], and the other is in the Oakland museum. And-
So, in the dark room, if you came across a double image, you would notice that something—
She knew that it was extra good, there was nothing accidental about her photographs. She selected her photographs very strongly. When she didn't like a negative, she cut it, and it went into the wastepaper basket. And she did that on, on film, for film, she cut them, and I think he, he—of course, he may not let you have that.
Well, but I'm trying to get a basic sense of what she [Dorothea Lange] thought she was doing, you know. I mean, was she just a mirror for the world? What was she, you know, when she'd go out, when you'd be driving along the road and she'd stop and photograph, what was it she was trying to get?
I've gotta go back further than that. She was married to a very funny, active artist, conversation piece in the community. And he had no politics, no Depression politics, no, just, he was an artist. An artist was supposed to be above it all, they were sort of like Daoists, you know. And, Dorothea was a photographer for the rich, very rich. She was getting two hundred dollars for portraits in the 20's. Oh, I mean, even Ansel wouldn't get that much, right? [laughs] She looked out a window one day, from this very comfortable life, wife of a famous artist, and lots of food, and restaurants out, and time out and trips to the Southwest, and she saw a man with a Homburg hat and a wheelbarrow. And that Homburg hat, that photograph, that hat appears in the, in the White Angel breadline, and in other photographs there are men with Homburg hats. This shocked Dorothea. Now, she didn't get to be a better photographer, or even a different photographer. She photographed her social people, the society people, the same way she photographed the Depression people, with extraordinary compositions, with great insight, with patience. But what was different was that they were her kind of people on the PWA or, the, work program that was first initiated in 1939. Even before the stock market went, things were coming apart, and the stock market only made people jump out windows, that's all.
I've seen some notes, you know, she took a lot of notes, right? I've seen some of her notes at the Oakland museum, but, I think they're revealing, but I don't quite understand them. I don't even remember what the sequence was, there was something she was trying to photograph, and the note would be, "I haven't got it yet, I haven't captured it."
OK, well, take one quote. "When it comes to the belly button and the backbone, when the belly button and the backbone come to fight over a bean, that's hungry." Now that, that means an image, she wants to find a guy with a real thin, scrawny, Oklahoma look. One guy has said it, and she's looking for someone to, or maybe the same person, to hook that on to, that's her caption. A photograph alone cannot be defamation, it can't lie, it can't misdirect your eye. What does make a photograph propaganda is the words that accompany it, and she knew that, and she knew she was making propaganda, for the government.
And do you think, was she comfortable with that?
Oh yeah, making, sure, because she believed in it.
Well, the reason I ask is because, you know, when Sarkovsky[?] and museum art critics look at her, they say, "This is an artist," they don't say, this is a propagandist, they say that—
That is a bunch of shit. The—no photographers are artists. Some artists are photographers, but no photographers are artists. They deal with chemistry, a temperature, a clock, time, and a lens, optical, and anything else is in their head and in front of them, and can they explain it to someone else. Now, a painting, and this is my, this is my, my platform, a, a painting can be abstract or anything you call it as an artist, and he doesn't care what people see in it. He can make social commentary in a painting, but he doesn't have to imitate photography to do it. Now, a photograph doesn't have to imitate art to be a photograph, but at one time, photographers imitated art. They got confused, they're still confused.
But I mean, you know, when you, when one thinks of Dorothea Lange, one doesn't think of a consummate dark-room technician, one thinks about someone who's using their camera to see some truth and reveal it.
Just technique is not going to do a damn thing for anybody. And you know, what Dorothea said about Ansel—they had a life-long hate relationship, not love and hate, they were friends and hate relationship. What Dorothea said about Ansel was so funny, she said, "If you look at a negative, a picture on the wall, and you talk about the negative, you're not a photographer, you haven't made a photograph. If you look at the picture on a wall, and you see the finished print in terms of zones and areas and densities, you're still not a photographer." [talking to camera crew] Boy, have I screwed you up that time, whoa! [laughs]
But, but, but do you think, do you feel comfortable with describing her as a communicator, someone who had something to share with people? What made her photograph, let me put it that way.
Yeah, labels are difficult. What, what made her photograph was, I described, the Homburg hat, and her strata of society being thrown out, which is not happening in today's depression, by the way. The rich gets richer, but then the rich were getting poor, and there's a big difference. In the 20's, there were a lot of "fellow travelers" and runners, or rounders. There was also a legitimate bunch of, we'd now say "Democrats," democratically-inclined people, who believed in Social Security, union security, medical payments, all the things that we're used to, which might, and I'm just saying might, be what's causing our problem today, just might be. Such things as minimum wages, you know, if we could take in all of Mexico with no minimum wage, we would have someone to exploit.
But you think she, you identify her with that, that sort of—
She, she was identified with the liberal fractions of society, but she was not a Communist. She was very, very much—never socialistic, I'm saying, I'm saying liberal, not fellow traveler. There were fellow travelers, they're called no-thinkers now. They would just spout anything, you know, that someone told them to spout. That wasn't Dorothea's way, Dorothea wants to explain with camera and pictures what it's about. Now, what was your question?
That was it. Let's stop for a second. How we doing on sound?
Ron, can you talk a little bit about how Dorothea worked? I mean, I'm thinking about that story you told me about driving her, in terms of how she would use her vision and how she would actually focus in on stuff.
Did I make it up? [laughs]
No, when you're driving her down the road, just tell me what happens when you're out on those trips with her.
She always said, "Ron, slow, slower." At twenty miles, fifteen miles, ten miles an hour, "Slow! Go slow!" And I was a teenager, fifty was slow to me, [laughs] gee whiz. But I learned. And she was, she was looking, and all the time, really, really looking at situations. Then we'd turn in. In those days the people parked beside the road, with a broad place, and tents went up, especially if there was ditch water for drinking. Can you imagine, in America? Those pictures, are you coming in with pictures?
Yes, we're going to have lots of your pictures, we're going to see the Hoovervilles, and—
There's the Hooverville, north Sacramento, many of those I made, by the way.
So you'd come to a place, a likely spot...?
We'd come to a likely spot, and then we would go easy. Look around, talk, and her famous—
—introduction, "I'm from the gover'ment," and it wasn't government, gover'ment, to sort of slide over it, "and we're here to see things, and—"
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] Speed.
Oh, that's all right.
Could you find it? Yeah, we actually ran off right when you were starting to tell me the "I'm from the gover'ment" approach, how she would actually—
Well, then, then she—
Could you start from, she comes in and says, "I'm from the gover'ment?"
Well, when we came to a situation which was a, a sort of a, people dumped somewhere by, obviously they weren't organized, then she would stop the car and walk around. No camera, no nothing, just talking, "I'm from the gover'ment," then she'd get a camera or I'd get a camera, and she would always ask, or at least it would be implied, that she could photograph. She did not agree in candid photography, was vehement against the results, and believed that people should be informed so they could do whatever they do when they know they're being photographed. In other words, she didn't believe in catching someone in a photographic shape that didn't really represent what they were. Candid, you know, "up the nose" photography.
I think, I think Stryker said that, and I guess it applies to her. He said that, that the FSA never produced a photograph that ever embarrassed any of the people who were, that was not true to, of the people, how they wanted to present themselves. Maybe that's—
He was so full, he was so full of words [laughs] and self-importance. I don't think that's true in the first place, the second place I doubt if it's—
Well, but it was a principle, you know, would you say it was?
Yeah, he had lots of principles. He had lots of principles.
But I mean, what you were saying about Dorothea, the, you see it in a lot of the photographs, you see a relationship between the person being photographed and her, it's clear there's something.
They know they're being photographed, and they're doing, they know what they're doing. Like right now, I don't know what I'm doing. [laughs] I got you that time.
Yeah, you're being photographed. Tell me, tell me the story about, I guess it was when you were photographing the floods in '38, and the guy was so desperate he tried to throw himself under the truck, under the car.
This was in north Sacramento, and there's, used to be the highway went through town, and there was a little road that went around where the freeway now goes around, and a Hooverville was north Sacramento. There were, there were Okies and there were family people, and there were still a considerable number of what we called bindlestiffs, or bums. Bums are people that were perpetually going to be in that, in that condition, but then the Depression made it so they couldn't steal pie off the old windowsill, as the funny-papers have it, and they couldn't get work chopping wood for just the day, and they were beginning to get hungry. We went up a driveway, or in a, in a private driveway by mistake, and then Dorothea said, "Well, let's back out." As I was backing out, a bindlestiff, stiff type, threw himself—I saw him running, in the rear-view mirror I saw him coming. And this driveway had been up a hill, so I had, I couldn't stop right away. I stopped as fast as I could. When I stopped, he was under the back end of this Wood E Ford, and it was a light car. It wouldn't have killed him if it ran over him, but it might have broken a leg. He had contusions on his knees where he had thrown himself down on the ground, and the back of the body was over him. He got out, and he wanted money, lots of money. Well, we were living on the road, on four dollars a day per deal, we didn't have much money. And Dorothea gave him something, I think it was a dollar, and he went away grumbling. But it always impressed me that someone could be so desperate that he was willing to be run over to get paid. Until I got to India, where I saw a man who sat on the curb, and every time a truck came close to the curb, he put his feet out in order to be run over. Squashed, his feet were flat.
I mean, it sort of, it sort of means that, that—
—that story, that there weren't a lot of choices, that people didn't have any hope any other way. Some that felt—
No, there were no alternatives, there wasn't much, there was a food program in rural areas. This was in not quite a rural area. There were various reliefs from the government, the FSA, and counties distributed relief to families, but he was in between. He fell through the cracks. So, it was a lesson I'm still learning. Contusions are still there.
A lot, a lot of times she would have to go do, basically, publicity for the FSA camps, right? Which was not what she really wanted.
Not often, she objected a lot to that. She did photograph permanent structures made by various government agents. She did, her photographs were publicity photographs, all Stryker's photographs were propaganda, free to the press. They remain today non-copyrighted, you can get any one you want for four—oh, we shouldn't say that on film. Everybody'd be running to get Dorothea Langes for four dollars.
Well, but it's like the "Migrant Mother," you know, everybody wanted it, right? It's—
Yeah, but, we started out talking about "Migrant Mother", and the reason I wondered about it is—are we out?
Yeah, we're on.
[ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
No, no, go, keep going, man.
Was, was the—that the book , which she published in 1939 with Paul Taylor, doesn't have that photograph in it, and it makes you wonder why?
Was it made yet?
It was made in '36, the book came out in '39, three years later. It didn't have that photograph in it. It didn't have anything, and I just wondered if that meant she didn't value the image as much as other people did.
I don't know the answer, I don't know the answer to that. Perhaps, it's become, you know, I mean, history makes photographs, you know. Maybe, but, there are two negatives, and one has that thumb in it and one doesn't, which Stryker fired her over. [laughs]
Let's stop for a second.
—I don't have any light ones or I would wear glasses all the time.
OK, we're, we're back.
We just, you were just mentioning when you told me the story about the guy who was so desperate he threw himself under the car, you referred to the fact that you and Dorothea are traveling, and all this is happening on a shoestring, it's four dollars a day. How does that work?
Well, we paid a dollar for a motel room. It was called an auto-court. Sometimes it had a shower in the room, and sometimes a central one. We made our own breakfast out of coffee and stale bread, and we ate a lunch somewhere, picked up something, and we went to thirty-five cent diner for dinner. Pretty simple. And that was four dollars, [laughs] you just spent it, so we didn't have any money left over to pay people. Dorothea's point of view, of course, was that she was doing more good for people by photographing them than she could possibly, even if she had a million dollars to give away. And she was. She, in accumulation, she did. So, we were, of course there were plenty, hundreds of places where you wanted to give someone a dollar or two, or five, get them out. I saw a Thanksgiving dinner in a, in a camp, and it consisted of biscuits, made with, they call it biscuit flour, it comes prepared with the rising in it, and they had some lard, and they made a white gravy—this is an Oklahoma, this is an Oklahoma dish, by the way—
you'd better quit.
Let's stop, yeah. Let's stop.
OK, tell the story about, about Christmas in—Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving, yeah. Well, we were photographing in a camp and we were getting into tents, Dorothea and I, and this family were sitting down to dinner, and of course they had a large, what do they call it, thank God, what do they call that when you bless your food? What is it?
Grace! Grace, well, they were being very graceful, and on the table were biscuits, white gravy, and across the top of each of biscuit were one and a half inches of green onion top. Thanksgiving dinner. That impressed me. I have that, I have a picture of that, in case you want to run it.
I'd love to see it, yeah.
I think I have one printed upstairs, I took, I photographed it.
But, but you know, that goes back to what you said about Dorothea feeling that her photographs were the best way to help. Did she think it was actually working? I mean, I know she was trying to, but did she get a sense that—
She knew it was working. She knew she had a purpose in life, and she had found her purpose in life, and the only stumbling block was, was Stryker, who, who had laws and rules and regulations, and the only other guy that got away with not fulfilling those regulations was—what's the name of the photographer?
Walker, Walker Evans.
[ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] for different reasons. But—
Yeah, but he—
—he didn't report in.
Are we out? Yeah, so OK, let's change. Then we'll move on.
Well, I mean, you told us that Dorothea had a purpose in life that people started to run away with, but if you had to sort of define what her purpose, or what she was trying to accomplish, how would you say it?
I know exactly what she wanted to do, she wanted to be remembered. Now, this may be a little, a little cynical or something, but, her main thrust was to make a body of work that would survive her. She'd seen too many photographers down the tube. After they died nobody mentions them, and maybe they weren't good, but maybe they weren't, didn't do it right. She had what I call a sense of posterity, she said over and over again, to herself and sometimes out loud to me, What will people think in the future? Not now, what will this mean to the future? How will they accept this photograph? Now I'm showing people what it was like. These are the things that kept her going. Is there any difference between that and pure ego?
I think so.
All right, I do too. Because it has a, it's ego with a meaning on it, a handle, and—
Especially when you consider that she had stopped taking society portraits and was taking photographs of real life.
Yeah, well, she didn't, when she did society portraits, she was out to do the best she could for the rich upper-crust, the big-shots of the city, the Baldwins and the Sterns.
See, but I doubt if during that period she would say, how will people look at this society photograph in the future? That that wasn't an issue, the way it was when she was on the road.
No, when she was on the road, she knew that it was transitory, that these things would change, and that this was an important time in her life. In fact, it's been the most important time in the modern history of the United States, the big Depression. And we may be going into another one, I mean going into it, in spite of what everyone says.
But she had a short-term goal, I mean, she wanted to do something that would help people then, right?
Paul Taylor, her husband, he was a labor economist. And he was academically inclined to show labor's role in our economy, and how it had to be considered, because at one time, you know, laborers were serfs. You know, that's it, you just hired them and fired them, and we still do that. You know, the big difference today, in Japan,
doesn't [sic] hire and fire, they hire. And—
Well, you know, I had been thinking of asking you that point, was, was the—
Have we got a front door noise, come on in.
You told us about, about the, the symbolism of seeing the bowler hat and what that meant in terms of shifting her focus out, out of the studio, but there was a second shift too, which was from the street into the country, and wasn't Taylor the person that really got her out on the road?
The history of California labor and agriculture is a history of, of immigration, starting with...Irish? And—
Sir, could I interrupt for just one second?
Can you unclip your red glasses thing, just put it in your pocket, sort of shift it so [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
Sorry about that.
Boy, that's going to be funny when it flips off in the middle of a scene here. Mexicans, Indians, Samoans, Japanese, all these people were offended by our society. They, the Japanese couldn't buy, Orientals couldn't buy land. The Indians, the Philippines couldn't bring in women. The Indians worked in big gangs and were labor-contracted in gangs, from Bangladesh, now, from what's now known as Bangladesh, and Paul Taylor studied those people. So he had a different reason, but their reasons came together, their abilities and their reasons meshed, melded together. He was a, Paul, Paul, an extraordinary person. Very.
Do you, do you think, obviously he [Paul Taylor] didn't shape Dorothea's photography, but do you think he sensitized her to things?
No. He brought her to the scene, because academically he knew where the Indians were or the Samoans. One of the great scenes of my traveling around with Dorothea, and I hope you can find a photograph, I don't have it, is this great big Buick Cadillac or Packard, and in it are nine or ten little, teeny, Philippine men, and one large, blond, American dame. She was contracted to this group of six to nine people for sexual favors, and they moved together [laughs]. But it was nine to one. They didn't have any, they didn't have any men—any women—they weren't allowed, they didn't allow the importation of Philippine women, until quite recently.
Well, I have the sense that if Dorothea hadn't met Paul Taylor, she wouldn't have gone out to those places and experienced those—
Not true, she was already doing it.
She was out there?
She was, yes, oh yes. I worked with her long before she met Paul Taylor, and we went on short day-excursions, but we went to South San Francisco, we went to Sacramento, we went to Reading. Reading was the northernmost of the migrations. You see, in the United States has always had [sic] two factors. One was, they had natural resources to exploit, they had human resources to exploit, and they had agricultural resources to exploit. All the Okies were the last of them, the human, agricultural, tipped over, came to California, and sloshed back and forth from Bakersfield up to almost Redding. But, they didn't get to Alaska, very often. It was, I think the Philippines went to Alaska on the canning boats, and the Chinese, but other than that—that was the end of the era, and one main reason our depression is different today, is that we don't have any of these excesses. I mean, you don't have excess labor, you have some guys that won't or don't work, or take drugs, but they're not excess labor.
Although we like to think of them as that.
Something that struck me about why what Dorothea Lange did was so significant, I wonder if you agree, is, was that, was that photography itself was a very, very important thing in the 1930's. It really reached people, the way—have we gotten a little blasé and cynical, was it, was it fresher and more important to be a photographer taking pictures then?
Photography has lost its importance from the day that Muybridge [photographer Eadweard Muybridge], Muybridge—Muggeridge his name was, really—used a 23' x 28' glass plate negative to make pictures. That was very important, he charged—
Well, I mean—
I think $13,000 to make ten photographs.
What I'm saying is, people nowadays, you tell them about Dorothea Lange and they say, well, what's so important about taking pictures? But what she did was important, really. I'm just wondering if people thought about photography differently.
No, no, no, no, people, people have always been confused about photography. They, they confuse it with art, and they confuse it with snapshots, and it's neither art, nor is it snapshots. You know, just holding up a line of fish and stuff, that was photography to most people. They didn't realize what Dorothea was doing was, you know, very, very important, and a lot of other people. But if you look at other photographers in the Farm Security, they fell down. Rothstein held up pretty well, Marion Post Wolpott, cot, [sic], Wol—held up fairly well, but—
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] when you were a young kid driving Dorothea around on these trips, did you understand that you were working with one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century at that point? Was that clear then, or—
You know, you son of a gun. [laughs]
I wonder, I wondered [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] .
I knew that, I knew that instantly. I knew when I was ten or, between ten and fourteen that I was going to be a photographer. I started helping people, Willard Van Dyke, I printed for him, and Horace Bristol and Dorothea and Ansel and other people. No, I knew what, I knew what photography was about.
But did you know what Dorothea, I mean, did you—
Oh yeah, oh yeah, absolutely. I, I mean, without any—you remember the picture of the Salvation Army in San Francisco, the girl with the flag? That was made with a Graflex, like that. I made it, right, the dingus [sic] I made I gave to Dorothea, and we were slumming around in San Francisco looking for a subject. Well, they put it together, you don't, I mean, a photograph is never a snapshot, it's always something together. You have a little girl, you have a preacher, you have a flag. My god, what more do you want in that frame? We had a long lens, I was up against the building, you know, in an alley, in a ministry in San Francisco.
I've seen another picture of, of yours which she published in , it's a, it's a photograph from the 1938 cotton strikes, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] down in—
I know which one you mean.
Oh, OK, let's, let's change it.
This is a—
Heads and tails.
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
Tell me a little bit about—you did a lot of processing and dark-room for Dorothea?
So, so you'd get back from a trip and you'd do the film, and get the proof-sheets ready, and you've told me some of her comments, like this issue of "How will people see this in the future," but how would she respond when she'd see your images? When you'd get back from the trip, and they'd be there?
Well, that's the trouble with being so far, many years removed. I don't remember exactly how we responded. I could talk a little bit, maybe I'll come to it in a minute, about her technique, because Dorothea, being brought up in that early era, used pyro, pyrogallic acid, and ABC pyro. Now, ABC pyro has a great ability to make nice, warm negatives, but it changes every fifteen minutes for its life, from the time it's made until you finish using it, so your negatives are not always too uniform.
I'm, I'm more interested in, in, you know, what, in how she would evaluate, not the technical quality of her work, but its effectiveness. I know she'd say, well, this picture will last, but would she ever say, this picture's going to help people, or this is going to make things better, or, would she think about this?
No, she never said those things out loud. No no, no.
I mean, you had a sense she might have been thinking it.
Oh yeah, oh, we might have discussed that factor academically, but not in relation to a photograph, a particular photograph.
Did, did you help her when she was, I know she did several sets of prints for Senate committees and for big exhibitions, in terms of how she would select her photographs?
I don't remember how she selected her photographs. Paul Taylor had a lot to do with those sets of pictures, because he, when they first got together, it was Paul who was sending her pictures off to Senate committees before she got in with Stryker, and that was Paul's doing. He was a photographer herself, rather pedestrian, but the Oakland museum has—
But being an academic, he would select things for their content or other issues, rather than if it was a good photo.
Well, he could make a com—being an academic he could comment on a quarter of an inch square on an 8 x 10 print and think it was the important part, and send in the whole 8 x 10 print and nobody'd understand it. [laughs] He had television vision.
I know she was in increasingly bad health towards the end of the decade, did that really interfere with these trips and her work? Did it make it hard for her?
Well, of course, I can name, if you had live [sic] on one Arrowroot cracker, two tablespoons full of ice cream, and maybe a ounce [sic] of soup for your day's intake, that would interfere with you. It interfered drastically with her, with what she was able to accomplish. She had one ambition for the last five years of her life, was to put together a big show, and she got it together, and then she gave up. Poot!
But, but I'm talking about even in the 30's, was, was the first time she started getting sick.
She didn't start getting sick in the 30's, no. She started getting sick in '49, forty—
So that wasn't really a factor. In terms of how—
—'50. No, no, she was very healthy person [sic], and, and she could work as hard as Ansel, which was a lot, because Ansel could work for fifteen hours.
Hey, what was that noise?
All right, let's stop for a second.
OK, tell me the story about registering—
Let me just have you, just [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] , just one second.
OK, focus in, focus in. Focus in.
OK, we're fine.
All right, right there, you got the focus right there?
OK. [laughs] All right.
A quarter-inch half of that, actually.
Ah, you're, well, we, we traveled around a lot, and of course, on the four dollars a deal, we had to get in one motel, we couldn't buy two motel rooms just because one person was female, and one, sort of, very young male. I guess, I was nineteen or twenty at the time. And sometimes eyebrows would be lifted a bit when we marched into a motel room together, and once there was such [sic] arch eyebrows that it was obvious something had to be said, and Dorothea strode forward and signed the register, and she signed it "Dorothea Lange and Fancy Man," [laughs] and I thought that was, I thought that was nice. I probably took my sleeping bag and went and slept out on, if it wasn't raining, out on the lawn in front of the motel, but she had, she was a combination of being a very judgmental person, very hard on her family, and totally non-judgmental on some people outside of her family. People's sexual peccadilloes didn't, didn't cause her to comment, or notice, or rise [sic] an eyebrow about, so she was a very strange person in that respect.
When you, when you look back at that period, the late 30's, what about her stands out the most? What is [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] .
What stands out most about Dorothea to me, is the fact that, that, she suffered polio when she was eighteen or nineteen, I think, quite late in her life, and it left her with a definite crooked foot and a limp. It resulted in several things. One, it resulted in a long dress which she always wore, her own sort of design of dress, and ambit—not an ambition, but a drive to surmount, to overcome the physical disability that it, it caused. She often said to me, that, you can never be anybody until you have a disability you have to overcome, and it doesn't have to be a leg, but it could be any kind of a disability, from family background on. But you have to overcome the ability [sic], to understand the meaning of success, and that, that impressed me more than anything I know about her, even her photographic ability, which I consider to be the best of this, of this generation.
Do think that—
Of the five middle generations.
Do you think as well as, that giving, urging her on, that also made her particularly empathetic to people who were suffering?
Oh yes. Yeah. She—yes, very much. She also had a very, very—
I can't use that, when you just say yes. You have to tell me she was sympathetic, or she, because of her disability, just a 'yes' doesn't help me.
That and a dollar gets you a whole answer. [laughs]
Right, yeah. Right.
All right. She was very sympathetic, say, to people who had mental, physical, alcoholic problems. She herself had a grandmother who was very, very into the booze, and when she, Dorothea, served booze, she served about half an ounce of Jamieson's Irish whiskey, with four ounces of hot water, and that was supposed to suffice for cocktail hour, or two. On the other hand, we came upon once, in San Francisco, a guy with a big, red, bumpy nose, and I said, "My god, Dorothea, what's that, Dorothea?" She said, "That's something roseola," you know, and I said "Well, what is it?" She said, "You get it from drinking." So, she'd had that experience of, I would think that might have been her grandmother, but she could recognize that big, bumpy nose of someone who'd been in the soup for a long time. But she did, she herself was very, very, very close about alcohol.
That's a funny combination, being strict with your kids, but yet so empathetic with strangers.
The absolute truth about her. And her, if, when you interview her children, Dan and John, you'll find they, they have factors, part [sic] of her they think are horrible. I never saw them. I never saw that part. I know, I heard about some of the parts, but I never saw any horrible part, which is very strange.
Did, I mean, was she two different people, really, or just two parts of—
Dorothea was five or six different people. For instance, she was the finest housekeeper that has ever, I have ever witnessed. She had the best taste in decoration and, and putting together a house. She could cook extraordinarily well. She made lots of lifelong friends, she made, many people stayed friends with her, hell or high water. Now that's four people already, and she could photograph, that's five. That's a lot. Not everybody has that broad a, a life. It's true. Another question.
Well, it's, I don't know—
I've always, it's always struck me that it's really difficult to photograph people who are having a hard time. Do you, do you think it caused her pain, or stress, or anguish?
No. No, it did not cause her pain or anguish, because she knew that what she was doing would result in alleviating—
—somebody's pain, somewhere. Nor, I mean, I was in, in India, and the, the beggars drive, if they were on the street here, would drive you crazy. Little kids with their arms broken, so that they stick up in the air—
OK. OK. OK, I just wanted one last comment from you, a little bit more about how Dorothea and Paul and people like you felt about the Japanese internment [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] .
We were horrified. There was an hysteria on the land, and combined with the rednecks, the Arian whatever, that pushed that through, and the biggest mystery was the mystery that Earl Warren, governor then of the state of California, signed it then instead of quitting his office, and the next biggest mystery is that he went on to become a pretty good Supreme Court judge. Those are two mysteries of the era. I was in Navy Intelligence at the moment, and I had Japanese friends, and one Japanese, particularly friendly, friend of mine, we walked San Francisco north beach, and so forth, because he was going away on the train the next day. I passed an undercover agent that I, being a photographer at Navy Intelligence, knew. You know, in Intelligence you have a limited amount of who you should know, but I knew all the undercover agents because I photographed them in their contacts. He recognized me on the street, and I spent six weeks in a room, every morning I reported for duty, and I went into a room, and I got out at five o'clock, they let me go home. But at eight in the morning I went into the room, five o'clock at night I went out, while they investigated me, for walking the streets of San Francisco with a Japanese who did not speak Japanese. [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . And that sort of burned my ass, and it burned a lot of people, and the 20,000, or 40,000, or 50,000, or 100,000 dollars per family, paid after sixty years, or fifty years has gone by, is not a payment. I don't know what to do about it. But, there should be a monument to the folly. It should never happen again, but it will. It will. Up in Idaho there are Arian, Arian brotherhoods running around with guns and, and shooting, [laughs].
All right, let's cut here, I think that's, that's enough.