An Expression of Emotionality Through the Photographs of Great Depression

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Photography is a form of visual language used to communicate non-verbally and, in this case, better shape our understanding of the Great Depression. As a result of a devastating stock market crash, the Great Depression became known as the worst economic crisis in our nation’s history. Lasting from 1929 to 1939, “consumer spending and investment dropped, causing steep declines in industrial output and employment as failing companies laid-off workers” (Great Depression History). As a result, unemployment and bank failure spread across the nation. The Great Depression encompasses overwhelming emotion, specifically outrage and hopelessness. The photographs depicted below contrast these two key emotions and highlight the important aspects of this time period. Through different angles of vision and emotional responses, these photographs offer a unique perspective on the struggles faced by many during this time period.

One key comparison between these two photographs is definitely the emphasis on social status and how men and women struggle to fulfill their roles in the household. The disastrous effects of the depression were nearly impossible to escape. Through logical appeal, the photographer effectively encapsulates these struggles men faced during this time period. In the first photograph, a group of men are protesting for food and work. Within the crowd, a few men are holding signs that say “work or riot, one or the other” and “starve or steal, what will it be.” “For millions of American men who lost their jobs during the Great Depression, the loss of the ability to provide for their families posed a direct threat to household stability” (Great Depression). During this time period, men typically worked to earn most of the household’s income. In fact, the men in the photograph are all well-dressed, mostly wearing suits, which further supports this conclusion. Unfortunately, women that did work had limited employment opportunities and were paid significantly less. With this historical context, viewers can uncover a deeper understanding of the photograph beyond what can be seen with the eyes alone. Holistically, the first photograph represents the economic struggles men faced and their resulting actions. Beyond the men protesting, though, women also faced many challenges of their own.

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Specifically, the second photograph depicts a woman sitting beside her children which already begins to visually reveal the household struggles women faced during the Great Depression. As seen in the photograph, the room is dirty, underkept, and very small. These conditions were very common during the Great Depression. With major budget cuts, many people couldn’t afford a home at all and were left on the streets. If fact, many Americans were forced to build scrap metal shacks called Hoovervilles (Great Depression History). In this photograph, the woman and children are also wearing worn-out clothing and overalls. The children do not even have shoes and look as if they have not showered. This photo depicts an average household during the height of the Great Depression and portrays a unique angle of vision on the issue. Overall, both photographs emphasize the unique struggles men and women faced during this economic crisis, whether it be the harsh daily living conditions, crushing unemployment, or the resulting financial instability.

On the contrary, these photographs portray different emotional responses to the economic crisis. Expressed through different facial expressions and body language, each photograph offers a unique angle of vision during this time period. In the first photograph, the men demonstrate a serious mentality though stern facial expression and clean posture. The stock market crash, the consequence of the rapidly booming economy, is likely the reason these men are protesting. The protesting men are well-dressed and convey professionalism despite the harsh economic standings. Unlike the second photograph, the lack of eye contact indicates an absence of trust. In avoiding eye contact, the rioting men are showing that they do not have the slightest level of respect for the government officials responsible for the economic collapse. Based on these observations, it can be assumed that the men are determined to fight for change and fix what is broken in the economy, no matter what it takes.

The harsh living conditions experienced by the women and children demonstrate aspects of hopelessness in contrast to the violent, emotionally-driven riots occurring on the streets. Through posture, eye contact, and unique photography orientations, this photograph highlights these negative emotional experiences faced during the Great Depression. For example, the woman and children are all looking straight on suggesting a cry for help during a time of need. It is natural to view a person from this angle and best represents the way we would expect to see them in their daily lives. From a psychological viewpoint, the viewers see eye-to-eye with the people in the photograph representing truthfulness to better establish a connection with them. Also, everyone is lacking emotion and seems to be living a minimalist lifestyle. Even the children are lacking the spark so many children should have. In the photograph, the young boy is holding his hands in his pockets and lacks all signs of happiness given his facial expression. The children look as if they are unable to live a fulfilling childhood and have given up hope themselves. Overall, the difference in emotions between these photographs contrasts the array of negative emotions. At first anger and violence crowded the streets but eventually, the economy completely crashed exhausting all remaining hope as seen in the second photograph.

Furthermore, the children in the second photograph effectively appeal to pathos in contrast to the first photograph. Unfortunately, the mother is left to care for four young children during a time where basic necessities were scarce. Many Americans during this time took extreme measures to ensure the safety and well being of their children. In fact, many Americans were forced to give up their children with hopes that they would find a family more capable of caring for them (Great Depression). In this photograph, the children are a symbol of innocence and hope. Unfortunately, though, they are forced to witness hostility, famine and even death. That being said, viewers are even forced to acknowledge the possibility that the children themselves are also at risk of death and illness. This appeal to emotion emphasizes the detrimental impacts of the Great Depression and helps viewers better understand these harsh conditions mostly by connecting with the children and everything they represent.

Overall, these two photographs of the Great Depression are similar yet use different visual techniques to invoke an emotional and logical response. Similarly, each photograph reveals the struggles faced by men and women regardless of their social status. On the contrary, though, the photographs emphasize different emotional responses using various visual aids to highlight the appeal to pathos. The protesting men in the first photograph are driven by anger and a duty to fight for change, while the women and children in the second photograph suggest hopelessness and a fight for mere survival. Through the different perspectives of these two photographs, viewers visualize more than just tangible objects but an emotional experience that better helps them understand the historical context of the Great Depression.

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