Tuesday, November 24, 2009

aint much of a hand at going to town

On Saturday, July 8, 1939, Lange and Margaret Jarman Hagood visited a farm not far from Pittsboro in Chatham County, North Carolina. The farm was unlike the others they saw. It was larger than other sharecrop or tenant farms they visited, worked by a large family using two mules rather than the usual one or none. There was a large house and a couple of outbuildings. Livestock included chickens, two cows, and a hog. Its cash crop was not tobacco, as was the norm, but a combination of cotton and corn. Judging by their possessions and appearance of well being, the farm family did well. Unlike most other tenant families, they owned an automobile and a radio.

This is the twelfth post in a series on photos that Dorothea Lange took in the piedmont region of North Carolina in July 1939. See the other posts for background information about the series.*

This first photo shows members of the family on their front porch relaxing on this Saturday afternoon. Lange and Hagood noted that the house was larger than usual, having several rooms, well kept. The house was in good shape, though unscreened. The number and quality of the chairs in the photo indicate the family's prosperity. Other farms had benches for kitchen seating and perhaps only one or two side chairs. This family has rockers as well as straight-backed chairs and the wife sits on one of the upholstered dining room chairs. The windows have curtains. There's a flower bed in front. There's an unusual degree of poise in the subjects; they're free of camera shyness, unselfconscious and relaxed.

These details come from the porch shot, above:

In their field notes, Lange and Hagood say the house has seven rooms and "was very cool inside on a hot summer midday."

They wrote:
Family: The mother has had eleven children, three of whom are dead. Her youngest child is seven; six children are at home but none of them go to school. Several of them are shewn on the porch and on the mules. The mother doesn't like to go to church since she can't see well, but enjoys listening to a service on the radio. The eldest boy drives the automobile — the father has never driven it.

Incidental notes: The mother let us see the interior of her house but did not want pictures made of her kitchen because it wasn't cleaned up. She had gone to town that morning and been so tired she just sat on the porch when she returned. "I aint much of a hand at going to town; I'd rather go on Monday or Tuesday when they aint so many people around."
Lange's caption says the following shot shows the eldest son on his way to visit a neighbor.

Lange's caption says the following shot shows "farmhouse and landscape of Negro tenant family as seen from the road."



Photographs come from the Prints and Photos Division of the Library of Congress. Click to view full size.

The field notes are found in Daring to look: Dorothea Lange's photographs and reports from the field, by Anne Whiston Spirn (University of Chicago Press, 2008)



*Previous posts in this series:

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