Prologue
All stories are discontinuous and are based on a tacit agreement about what is not said,
about what connects the discontinuities . ... The discontinuities of the story and the tacit
agreement underlying them fuse tellery listener and protagonists into an amalgam. An
amalgam which I would call the st01y'S reflecting subject . ... If this sounds unnecessarily
complicated, it is worth rememberinlf for a moment the childhood experience of beinlf
told a story . ... You were listening. You were in the story. You were in the words of the
story-teller. You were no longer your Single self; you were, thanks to the story, everyone
it
concerned. -John Be1lJery Another Way of Telling'
Reading photographs - visual records of time past-is a way of constmct-
ing versions of history. Interpretation includes assigning categories of
meaning ("art;' "document") to images, ordering them into sequences of
other pictures and words, and from these pieces creating a narrative-
which might be based upon chronology, a linear mode of perception, or
differently grounded in Circularity, indirection, and play, as memory and
imagination, ideology and cultural context direct. Narrative patterns are
potentially as multiple and as changeable as readers of images.
2
Photographs invite an especially broad range of responses because of
their widespread accessibility and use, from art museum to billboard, from
police report to family snapshot album. A good example of the way in
which responses to images alter over time and of the varied cultural work
that photographs do is Dorothea Lange's well-known "Migrant Mother"
(fig.
P.I).
When Lange took this picture in
1936
in a Nipomo, California,
migrant workers' camp, she was on assignment for the Resettlement Ad-
ministration (later the Farm Security Administration), hired to "docu-
ment" the living conditions of homeless families pouring into California in
a futile search for work. Roy Stryker, head of the
RA'S
Historical Section,
would later call this one, of the set of photographs Lange made that day,
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