Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) is a book written by James Agee, with photographs by Walker Evans. The work of two Americans describes the lives and surroundings of poor sharecroppers during the period of the Great Depression. “States” is a section in a book After the Last Sky (1986) written by a Palestinian Edward Said and accompanied by works of the Swiss photographer Jean Mohr. From this excerpt, the reader gets a first-hand account of daily life in the Middle East region. These two books were written by different authors, about different crucial periods of two foreign nations, albeit with the goal of showing peculiarities and worries of the everyday life of ordinary people.
The photos of both books are worth a thousand words and communicate a lot of information. Apparently, the social, historical, political, and economic context helps to comprehend the story behind the images of people and their surroundings. James Agee and Walker Evans were sent to Alabama in the summer of 1936 to document the lives of tenant farmers during the Depression (Agee and Evans IX). In his photographs, portraying tree families, their wretched lives, households and family members as detailed and frank as possible, Evans managed to depict the whole country. James Agee wrote his text as though he painted domestic scenes, penetrating the wretchedness caused by an economic crisis. The overall context provides an explanation of the pictures and outlines the reason these people are suffering. Thus, this work can be considered as a representation of conditions faced by displaced farmers.
In his turn, Edward Said reflected on the politics at the Middle East and noted that Palestinians are displaced persons exiled from their homeland. Said begins the essay by describing the situation of Palestinians with the help of photos. Apparently, he describes the Palestinians as aliens, without own home, and therefore with no identity (Said 11-15). According to the author, the real problem of Palestinians is that they have no country to unify. The pictures provide reality and nature of the problems with which most Palestinians are struggling every day. Most individuals may disconnect from the issues depicted only in text. However, when the argument contains the photos of real people, the readers frequently find more connection to the portrayed people and their problems. Hereby, both authors and photographers succeeded to present in their books and photos real life and people of different historical periods.
Agee and Evans were observing the life of Gudgers tenant family while living with them in one house. Agee’s writing is modest and self-conscious; he appears as a character in the narrative, although when he itemizes the content of a shack and clothes as well as describes odors, he is absent. It is worth noting the connection between the author and people of whom they write. Both the author and the photographer managed to make a connection and earn trust of the family. The proof is that the readers can see quite intimate scenes. Emma Gudger once said how much they all like Agee and Evans since they both make the family fell easy in their company. Therefore, everyone acted naturally, and no one worried what the journalists may think about them. Gudgers accepted them as their own people and complimented on being kind, quiet, and easygoing (Agee and Evans 54). With regard to this, the reader can see that Agee and Evans managed to create a bond with the family, which was a crucial moment in their collaboration.
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On the contrary, Said did not know the people on the photographs made by the European photographer, but as Palestinian, he was able to accurately analyze them. Moreover, he was sure that his countrymen treated the photographer politely, despite all discomfort and embarrassment Jean Mohr may have caused by his work. Said complimented Mohr on his photos by saying that the photographer perceived Palestinians as they would have seen themselves. Apparently, this statement qualifies the photographer’s work as highly professional. The author himself described photographs and the situation in the Middle East as frankly as possible for the citizen of the former Palestine. In this case, the author of the “States” was not personally acquainted with people whom he described, and whose lives he analyzed. Said knew the history and customs of this nation and shared the same fate as his fellow countrymen; therefore, the readers have an impression that the author knew the described people.
Agee and Evans continued to examine daily living of sharecropper’s family. The lives of most men on the Earth are spent on getting food, clothing, and shelter. The goal of the essay was to learn what families of tenant farmers eat and what the source of their food is. Moreover, they wanted to explore their houses and their construction as well as what clothing they use to protect themselves. Another aim of the book was to create a sense of crisis for the whole nation and provide visual evidence of the changes in rural life caused by the Depression. In like manner, the goal of Edward Said’s essay “States” was to depict social and private lives of his co-ethnics as well as the challenging position of people without own country. The author wanted to perpetuate his people, Palestinian traditions, dreams, and the events they have witnessed. The first group of journalists investigated impoverished sharecroppers, while the second described life of Palestinian refugees, albeit with the purpose of telling the world about these problems and making it pay attention to them.
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The project Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was designed to make urban Americans comprehend the reality of rural poverty. After Agee described the gas lamp, the only source of light at the house and the farmer’s slipping family, he wrote about town’s houses. These where the places where people spend their evenings listening to the radio, talking, playing cards, drinking, sewing, courting, loving in well-furnished rooms with electric lights.
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