Picturing Welty

The new issue of Transatlantica, an American-studies journal based in France, seems to be thick with interesting reading. “Seems” is the operative word, because none of the six essays on Richard Powers appear to have functioning PDFs, despite the site’s suggestion to the contrary. (I’m particularly curious about Thomas B. Byers“The Crumbling Two-Story Architecture of Richard Powers’ Fictions,” since it addresses a theme that Powers gets dinged for a lot, not always fairly.) However, a collection of pieces relating to last year’s Eudora Welty centennial appear to have made their way online intact, including a handful of appreciations of her photography. As Alison Goeller notes in her commentary on the photo In the Bag, Welty had a relatively easy time being a documentarian of a tense subject:

“In the Bag” was one of dozens of photos of impoverished black women that Welty shot as a junior journalist for the WPA in the 1930’s. Although she was white and middle-class, she was not met with the hostility that some of her fellow journalists and photographers faced. In fact, Welty said her subjects seemed to trust her in ways that were unusual. “In taking…these pictures, I was attended, I now know, by an angel—a presence of trust. In particular, the photographs of black persons by a white person may not testify soon again to such intimacy. It is trust that dates the pictures now, more than the vanished years.”

But Louis Mazzari, in paying tribute to Welty’s 1936 photo Tomato Pickers’ Recess, suggests that her WPA work was about more than just capturing working-class lives:

Welty’s sense of irony is always active. She was capturing the end of what Sean Wilentz calls the “old, weird America” and its pre-electric folk during the rise of the recording industry, national radio broadcasting, and mass-media entertainment. In the pose of the guitar player, is there not the slightest mimic of the star? Is his expression and attitude—in the exact center of this folk culture—also not the face of the pop-music future?

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