Italian Clothesline

Italian Clothesline309
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4 Essays

  1. David S. Gochman | Professor Emeritus, University of Louisville; Director, Health Behavior Systems says:

    The photographs of persons using "animate" as opposed to "mechanical" power and energy are striking. Examples are the images of the French bicycle cart in “modern” France, a developed country; and the African boatman; the clothes lines in Venice – again in "modern "Italy; the Guatemalan communal laundry and clothesline images; the Chinese man pulling a cart; the Chinese woman carrying water buckets; the Guatemalan child carrying goods on her head; the Cuban man plowing.

    Persons living in the “developed”/ industrialized world are so often caught up in Western / Eurocentric culture and technology that they take for granted that machines will take care of most of their tasks; they need to be reminded that so much of the world uses human or other animate sources of power to accomplish the tasks of everyday living.

    Ms. Tanur's poignant images convey this message most strongly.

  2. Lisa Handler | Community College of Philadelphia and Julie E. Press, Ph.D. | Independent Scholar says:

    Laundry is a universal fact of life. No matter the time or the place, laundry has to be done. In our personal lives laundry is a burden. Each of us is troubled by it – haunted by it – in different ways. There is the dirty laundry that piles up needing to be done and the clean laundry that can sit for days waiting to be put away. Strangely, the bags of dirty clothes and the stacks of clean clothes relentlessly remind us of what we feel to be personal failings: our inability to get control of this very basic aspect of our lives. Ours is a private failing. We hide our laundry – both dirty and clean – like a dirty secret in the private spaces of our private homes. Yet, laundry is not always private, as these pictures remind us. Nor is it always dirty.

    These photographs transform laundry into art without the benefit of splendid scenery or the possibility of romance. In one picture, the laundry hangs, almost precariously, against the backdrop of forbidding, threatening clouds. In another it hangs outside of what appears to be an upper level apartment with varying degrees of grit mingling with sunshine. There might be rusticity in the other photos, but there is no romance here. These photos remind us that laundry is more than romantic; it is the product of domestic labor. Although laundry is a universal fact of life, the form laundry takes and the way it hangs, reflect the context in which it is done.

    Another theme that emerges from the laundry photos is technology, or lack thereof. Whether in Europe or Latin America, we see clean laundry that is hanging out to dry on someone’s balcony or in her backyard. And in one photo, we see women meeting in a public place to wash the clothes and linens in the traditional way. All of this laundry has been cleaned in the absence of a washing machine, or at least in the absence of a dryer. The combined photos remind us of resource inequality between rich and poor. A laundry machine is a labor and time saving device. A clothes dryer works much faster to complete the task and takes much less time and effort to load than the clothesline method. With a dryer, you don’t have to cart a heavy basket full of soaking wet clothes outside, into the elements. You also don’t have to stretch out each piece individually and reach up high to hang it carefully on the line. Those with access to a laundromat or to their own washer and dryer enjoy the convenience and time saving aspects of these modern machines. At home, one can do laundry while multi-tasking. This is important to free women, who in most societies are responsible for laundry, to pursue other activities, including paid work, housework, child care, or leisure. The possession of a washing machine and dryer is a symbol of social class in most cultures.

    However, we also realize that similar to other modern conveniences, household labor saving devices aren’t always panaceas. The industrial revolution promised that modern housework technology would fully free women from the burdens of this never-ending labor. But we now know that one of the unintended consequences of the technology is that society’s standards of cleanliness adjusted to the available technology. People with washing machines wear their clothes fewer times before washing them, and social expectations are for clothes to have that “just washed” look and smell. Beds and towels get changed weekly and we tell ourselves that they ought to be for a healthy life. In a family of four with a washing machine and dryer, laundry can be a daily chore compared with once a week or less often if traditional methods are used. Further, just as with our gas-guzzling cars, modern laundry involves environmental social costs. Machine washing and drying consumes more fresh water and much more of the world’s precious power resources. It also releases many chemicals and detergents into the environment. Nonetheless, it is likely that the people whose laundry hangs so picturesquely in the photographs would prefer to have a dryer in their kitchen.

    Possessing a clothes dryer is desirable and envied for more than its labor saving attributes, however; the private aspect of indoor laundry is also important. The first thing we notice when we look at the photos of laundry hanging out is….the laundry hanging out, in public. It seems too obvious to mention, but people all over the world have their personal items hanging in public so that neighbors and passersby can see them and photos may be taken of them. In this sense, the photos invoke a certain voyeurism as we gaze at the personal items of strangers. Thus, one of the benefits of a dryer is the freedom to keep one’s personal items, especially underwear, private and out of public view. Privacy of all sorts increases with income, including private spaces to sleep, bathe and engage in leisure activities. Laundry, we are reminded, is another one of these sites.

    Yet, while the laundry hanging in public may be seen as a negative, the photo of the women communally washing the laundry provides a reminder of something positive about traditional ways that the modern world has dismissed. While homemakers with washers and dryers suffer high rates of depression and social isolation from their individual, separate daily burdens, meeting others and working together lessens these feelings of anomie. Feeling part of a community is good for our psyche, if not our backs. Thus, the communal laundry transforms what could be private and isolating into a community-building activity that promotes social cohesion and a sense of belonging.

  3. Eleanor Singer | University of Michigan says:

    Why is hanging laundry outside considered such a social taboo in the United States? It makes perfectly good sense if we're trying to save energy; it exposes stains to the most effective bleach there is (at least at certain times of the year, and especially in certain countries); it perfumes linens so they freshen a whole room for days; and almost every country I know cherishes the practice. Here the only industrialized country on view is Italy; but I have photos of laundry hung up to dry on balconies in Hamburg and Paris. Yet in the United States, the bylaws of every condominium and coop forbid the practice; representatives of the neighborhood association come to call if the unwritten law is broken; and a homely practice with many benefits has fallen not only into disuse but into opprobrium.

    How much oil could be saved, do you suppose, if laundry were dried outdoors when the weather permitted?

  4. Ruth Schwartz Cowan | University of Pennsylvania says:

    Many people, apparently, are taken with pictures of laundry on the line: silhouetted against the sky, contrasted with ancient stone or stucco walls. Rachel clearly was one of them; so am I.

    Part of what grabs us, I think, is aesthetic: the wonderful play of light on windswept cloth, the unconscious but still striking splash of colors, the very grounded local set against the very aerie infinite, the very present in front of the very past.

    There’s also something social in our fascination: something about finding beauty in the mundane, something about finding meaning in the everyday-ness of laundry. There’s nostalgia, of course: memories of our childhoods or longings for a past that we wish were better than we know it was. And family, of course: since the hanging of laundry is both a real and a symbolic act, signifying that someone is out there, caring for someone else.

    But the person who did the work is absent. Would Rachel have taken those pictures if someone worn out from care giving, someone not very “picturesque” had been caught in the act of hanging that laundry? Would I like them less? Still want to hang them on my study wall?