I remember when I saw my first “deplorable.” I was in my teens. He was the subject of a photograph by Berenice Abbott. The picture has haunted me as a person, and as a journalist, ever since.
In 1935, Abbott traveled through Ohio, Pennsylvania and the Deep South, taking pictures of the people and places she encountered. Though not done under the auspices of the Farm Security Administration, which had sponsored the work of photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, Abbott’s pictures often possess the same acute social consciousness.
Entitled “Old Man on Porch,” the picture shows a white man who appears to be in his late sixties or early seventies sitting in a rocking chair on the rundown porch of a shanty. The baggy pants of his overalls fall over his bare feet. One arm rests on his thigh, his hand hanging down between his legs. His other arm hugs a hound dog, which has placed its front legs on the man’s other thigh. Under a small, billed cap, the man looks through two slits of eyes, with a slight air of knowingness, out beyond the shanty. The dog is gazing, with open mouth, at its master with obedience and affection.
Underneath the photograph, and obviously after talking with the man, Abbott wrote this caption: “Here is one of the people who made for tension in the South. He felt vastly superior to any black man out doing all the work, sweating in the sun. It was so dreadful I don’t even like to talk about it.” Read more.