EDUCATOR'S GUIDE: REFRAMING AMERICA, Through the Eyes of Seven Immigrant Photographers


"I came to the United States in 1940 at a very tragic time in human history and (it might sound corny) there was this man Roosevelt President, and he talked to the people on the radio and told about the Four Freedoms and the better world of tomorrow. One day, I told myself, perhaps I can help with my camera . . ." recalled Marion Palfi. Born in Berlin of Hungarian and German parents in 1907, Palfi followed her fatherís career into German theater and films. By 1932, her attention had turned to photography.

After fleeing Hitlerís army, first in Germany and then in Holland, she settled in New York City. As she traveled through various American cities, she was troubled by the racial intolerance she witnessed there and by the growing problems in urban centers. Using her camera as a tool to record her concerns, Palfi brought a European perspective to social issues in the United States, especially those involving poverty, racism, and injustice. She was disturbed by the unwillingness or inability of American society to recognize and change them.

Palfi began to describe herself as a "social research photographer." She belonged to a generation of artists who believed that art could and should effect social change. By combining her art form with the study of society, Palfi explored and recorded groups that remained invisible in America: the poor, the oppressed, and the victims of discrimination. For the next thirty years she traveled across the country photographing these groups. This intensive work resulted in the production of several large photographic essays, passionate in their description of the disturbing things she witnessed. Palfi died in 1978.


Somewhere in the South, 1946-49
© Martin Magner

This photograph shows us a scene from a bus in the late 1940s. A black couple with a baby sit, staring straight ahead, underneath the statement:THIS PART OF THE BUS FOR THE COLORED RACE." It would be almost ten years before the laws requiring blacks to sit in the back of the bus, while whites sat in the front, would be changed.

To guide your students in a discussion, ask questions like:

Los Angeles, Anti Klan Meeting Where Klan Did Strike
1946-49 from Signs of Discrimination
© Martin Magner

Here, we see a group of people, black and white, that are attending a meeting organized to fight against the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Once, while photographing the KKK and its activities, Palfi had to smuggle her negatives out of the South because her life was threatened.

To guide your students in a discussion, ask questions like:

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS    This page last updated August 18, 1999.

| Contents | Angle, Framing, and Light  | Learning to Look | Alexander Alland | Robert Frank | John Gutmann | Otto Hagel and Hansel Mieth | Lisette Model | Marion Palfi | Glossary | Acknowledgements | CCP Home |
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