Say, Is this the U.S.A.. Text by Erskine Caldwell. Photographs by Margaret Bourke-White. Deull, Sloan, and Pearce, New York, 1941. 182 pp. First edition. Small folio (12.25 x 9 in./31 x 22.5 cm.) Clothbound with photo-illustrated boards. Photo-illustrated dust jacket. Numerous half-tone reproductions.
"This book is the third collaboration between husband and wife team Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell whose 1937 book You Have Seen Their Faces was a passionate indictment of the economic and social conditions prevailing in the Southern States. Say, Is This The USA? was published in 1941 and is a partial survey of a country on the brink of war that is narrated through both textual and visual ‘snapshots’ with very little depth, that serves to promote the message that the US has emerged from the hard times of the 30s and is now united in defence of American values and freedoms...Although the book does allude to economic and social problems, the overall tone of both the text and images are upbeat and positive, unlike much of 1930s American documentary photography...The only potential disruption to this overarching theme is when the book looks at racial difference and segregation in the Southern States, but here the images and text are negated by the deluge of patriotism that pervades the book. Instead of a passionate cry for a transformation of the social and economic system that kept so many locked into slavery in all but name, the narrative calls for a greater coming together and mutual understanding on the past of both white and black that they are part of a single American nation. Yet racial difference and stereotypes are reinforced through Bourk-White’s photographs which in contrast to the well-dressed, middle-class white people that make up much of the imagery, the 5 images of depicting black people are of a different order. Two of these images show black education in relatively poor but not destitute surroundings and another is of a young black boy who glared back at the viewer. The last two are of adult black men in jail, one of which shows a smug looking warden turning the key of a cell as a black man grasps the bars. The message is clear; the young black boy who stares at the camera is destined to join them in jail when he grows up. There is an implied acceptance of this state of affairs in the way this is presented....
The final picture is of the Statue of Liberty, shot from below, standing guard against the foreign menace that threatened the core democratic Enlightenment values that America believes itself to uniquely embody. Bourke-White and Caldwell’s patriotic rhetoric captured the zeitgeist of the time, preparing a bruised democracy for inevitable participation in a war that would ultimately lead to American political and cultural dominance that persists to this day."--from the fantastic blog, propaganda photos: books, politics and photography
Faint age darkening, otherwise Fine; Near Fine dust jacket; chipping at head of spine; wear and minor creasing to upper edges; a few small tears at extremities (less than .25 in./1 cm.).