Friday, 4 March 2016
Migrant man looking up at billboard. Dubuque, Iowa. April 1940. (photograph by John Vachon)
The standout message of Vachon's photograph is the satirical irony surrounded in the political discourses of the day. This was a time when American values were being questioned by the nation and the American people had lost a part of their identity that the government was obviously still clinging onto. While being preached to about opportunity and freedom, this man is carrying his only possessions on his back.
His positioning in the frame is paramount to the meaning of the image. The centralism of this man shows that the people of America were at the centre of this national crisis that affected so many. It is evident that he is a member of over half of Americans living below the poverty level. This does show the American Dream to be an omnipresent force in society, almost on a level with religion and an inescapable ideology embeded into culture and seen as the generalised 'American Way'. Vachon obviously photographed this because these cultural patterns carried a 'cultural significance to what they appreciated in the United States in the late 1930s'(1).
For me, this image shows the death of the American Dream in the eyes of the American people. These images, Vachon's included, which 'began essentially as government propaganda ended up becoming something more'(2). This seems to be more evident in these kinds of images as they show a hopelessness that is not just witnessed in someone's expression. In fact, this is the opposite; the lack of facial inclusion is something which works in Vachon's favour as America has essentially become a faceless and financially empty entity. A single man looking at this one billboard just shows that the American people had given up on this notion of their dream. The ground underneath and even the poster itself is damaged - the care for the dream seems to vanish. The image is open to interpretation, however, as another viewer might see this as a man looking at the billboard and view is as an inspiring piece, that it is accessable to anyone and the tagline acts as a banner of hope.