Wednesday, August 6, 2008

You have freedom when you're easy in your harness. ~Robert Frost

While Dave is vacationing out West, I'm taking advantage of my extra free time to take in some culture, besides what I get in my yogurt(!) For starters, Tuesday I visited the traveling exhibit Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905–1920 at the Minnesota History Center. What I didn't realize about these photographs is that they were taken by an amateur photographer who was a registry clerk at Ellis Island during an immigration wave from 1904-1920. He took over 200 photographs of the travelers, many of who were facing deportation, focusing on them as they were in their native costumes. There were 75 shown in this amazing exhibit, sponsored by the magazine Aperture.

Bohemian mother and children

Some photos were disturbing especially of the humans who would eventually be part of traveling circuses and side shows due to their size or deformity. Sherman had a compassionate eye and the compositions I saw were remarkable for an amateur. Each piece of clothing was worthy of several minutes of observation and in some cases, introspection. Also, many photos had captions with names, random information, including the name of the ship they had ridden or religion.

Jewish family from London

A New York Times article from 2005 gives more information about the photographer and some additional photos. It mentions one of my favorite photos:

'And then, with fedora, spectacles and
pale smudge of mustache,
there is Mary Johnson, 50, from Canada, who,
Sherman wrote, "came as 'Frank Woodhull' "
on Oct. 4, 1908, and "dressed 15 yrs in men's clothes." '

It was stressed that at the time, due to the many languages represented as well as nationalism and conflicting opinions about the immigration, the 'costumes' these travelers wore were used to define where they came from, sometimes with less than admiration.

three different women from Holland

women from Guadelupe

This mother had the most serene countenance and all of her children had inherited her blue eyes.

I enjoyed the photos from Italy and this one below was my favorite. I can't explain.
All the photos I've reproduced are from The Statue of Liberty National Monument, The Ellis Island Immigration Museum and the Aperture Foundation. The exhibit moves on to Lexington, Massachusetts in October and then on to Decorah, Iowa in May, 2009.


ellen b said...

I love these photographs. What a great exhibit to visit. My parents and oldest sister immigrated to the U.S.A. from Iran (escaped out of Russia to Iran in 1932) in 1947 and were processed at Ellis Island...

Julie Schuler said...

What amazing photographs! Thank goodness for amateur photographers.

Queen-Size funny bone said...

They really need to bring back hats. Hats tell a lot about a person.Those photos are better than the Glamour shots they do these days.

Julie said...

This was very interesting. Thanks for all the cool photos. I was very taken by the various headgear. I, too, really liked the photo you like.

Blue said...

How fascinating!
What a wonderful photographic record of times gone by.

bobbie said...

The photographs make me sad. I look at them and think of the hardships these people must have endured to reach this country, and the way they must have felt, unsure of what lay ahead.

teabird said...

I look at this picture and see my grandparents - thank you for showing us these photographs. I can not begin to imagine the sheer guts it took to leave one's homeland - or, in my the case of my family - the knowledge that whatever lay ahead had to be better than what lay behind.

Marianne said...

What a FABulous exhibit! Wish I could've been there to see it, I have my strong doubts it will ever make it to my neck of the woods.
Love the photos, of course.

Daryl said...

What a wonderful post ... I love seeing the families .. and the costumes .. when my parents were alive we went to visit Ellis Island when they re-opened the 'great hall', it was amazing ...


Donna said...

Wonderful photos sweetie!! So interesting!!hughugs