Without digging too deep, Daniel Allentuck and Nina Rosenblum’s doc Ordinary Miracles offers a breezy and informative overview of the legendary photographic collective known as the Photo League. Alternating between voiceover narration relating the group’s history, musical-set montages of the work of its affiliates, and recollections from surviving members, the film tells the story of the League, which formed the heart of New York’s amateur photography culture from 1936 to 1951. A combination school, salon, and affordable laboratory, the League took on a docu-realist orientation during the Depression, focusing the talents of members like Dorothea Lange and Aaron Siskind on socially conscious efforts to document poverty. While the film does a fine job tracing the League’s brief but instructive history—from its heyday of all-night discussions and glorious photo-making to the anti-Communist backlash that brought it to its end—its efforts to evoke the magic of the era don’t quite come off. Now-elderly ex-members enthuse about the heady atmosphere around the League seven decades earlier, but we pretty much have to take their word for it. What we don’t have to take on faith is the work itself, timeless snapshots of American marginality that Allentuck and Rosenblum generously pepper throughout the film.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 20, 2012