Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Apple Vendor and the Cliser Eviction

Apple Vendor Arthur  Rothstein Oct 1935
Cliser eviction Oct 1935

One the left, the Cliser Eviction photographed Oct 1935 by the Park. On the right an Apple Vendor photographed in October of 1935 by Arthur Rothstein. Both photographs were taken on Lee Highway near what would become the entrance to the Park.

When I began Rothstein's First Assignment (RFA), I looked for writings that Rothstein had left on this first assignment of his career. Rothstein was known for leaving type written notes on many of his assignments. Erol Morris's blog has an example of Rothstein's notes on his famous Dust Storm image.

I went to the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division to see if there were any notes on Rothstein's assignment in Shenandoah National Park in October of 1935. I found the dust storm notes, but Rothstein left no notes until about six months after his premiere assignment. I asked Beverly Brannon, curator at the Prints and Photographs, why no notes. She explained that in the beginning things were too chaotic and since the assignment was so close to Washington, there weren't any notes. I checked with the Roy Stryker archives in Louisville, KY and the archivist there also said that Roy Stryker, Rothstein's boss, also hadn't left any notes on this assignment. I even went to a collection of Rothstein's materials downstairs from the Prints and Photographs Department. Nothing there either. About the only thing I could find was the Richard Doud interview recorded in NYC in the 60s, which wasn't much help either.

So I went to the historical record to try to get a sense of the situation. I wanted to know what things were like when Rothstein went up into the mountains. The thing that I found that struck me was the Cliser eviction. On Oct 3, 1935 there was a well publicized eviction near the entrance to the Park. Melachnton Cliser, who owned a gas station, was resisting being moved from the park. More than that he was protesting it. He was talking to the press and writing his congressmen. The locals were behind him and he was starting to get a lot of press.

Since Rothstein's assignment also occured in October of 1935, I thought he might of taken a picture of the eviction. Some type of record even if he arrived too late to capture the actual eviction. Since he was working for what was known as the Resettlement Administration, it seemed the Cliser eviction would be something that he would photograph. But he didnt.

Oddly I found that he did photograph an apple vendor on the same road nearby. This meant he had to have passed by the Cliser site. Why photograph an apple vendor, which had nothing to do with Resettlement, but then not photograph a man whom the government was evicting from his land? To me this seemed more important to the government agency he was working for. After all the Park photographed the Cliser eviction. For some reason it wasn't part of the story Rothstein was sent to document.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Richard for posting this great blog. Here is the link regarding Cliser's eviction.