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Posts Tagged ‘Farm Security Administration

“Life is one big road with lots of signs”*…

 

Hay

 

(R)D has looked before at the remarkable work of the Farm Security Administration, which was launched in the New Deal to help relieve crippling poverty in rural communities.  As small part of that mission, the organization documented life in the the communities in which it worked….

These photos naturally included many road scenes, as the Great Depression had plunged rural America into a great migratory frenzy.

The photographs taken by FSA photographers under the direction of economist Roy Stryker have come to form the basis for the popular image of the Great Depression, among them Dorthea Lange’s Migrant Mother.

But I’m sure you familiar with that photo. What I want to share with you are some of the more striking images of cars and roadside life that also make up part of the collection, which the Library of Congress has digitized and made available on Flickr.

These photos capture a country on the move, attempting to make its way out of the worst financial crisis it had ever seen and into a productive future. This is intentional, of course. The photographs were intended to “introduce America to Americans” and instill pride in the country as it shook itself out of the depression…

Lincoln

More at: These Color Photos From the New Deal Show What Life On The Road Once Was Like.”  Visit the Flickr archive here.

* Bob Marley

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As we motor on, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908, at the at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, “Model T 001”– the first production Model T– rolled off the line.  (On May 26, 1927, Henry Ford watched the 15 millionth Model T Ford roll off the assembly line at his factory in Highland Park, Michigan.)

220px-1908_Ford_Model_T

1908 Ford Model T ad

 

Written by LW

September 27, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Turn left at Greenland”*…

 

 

FSA photos

 

After a series of setbacks in the courts that repealed many of the First New Deal’s program, President Roosevelt pursued a new set of initiatives including the Resettlement Administration in 1935. It was charged with aiding the poorest third of farmers displaced by the depression and particularly focused on resettlement on viable lands and providing low-interest loans. Directed by Rexford Tugwell, a Columbia University economist, the RA came under immediate scrutiny. Realizing the battle for public opinion had begun, Tugwell hired his former student Roy Stryker to lead the Historic Section within the Information Division of the RA, which in 1937 was moved to the FSA.

In order to build support for and justify government programs, the Historical Section set out to document America, often at her most vulnerable, and the successful administration of relief service. The Farm Security Administration—Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) produced some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression and World War II and included photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Arthur Rothstein who shaped the visual culture of the era both in its moment and in American memory. Unit photographers were sent across the country. The negatives were sent to Washington, DC. The growing collection came to be known as “The File.” With the United State’s entry into WWII, the unit moved into the Office of War Information and the collection became known as the FSA-OWI File…

Now, from Yale, a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing 90,000 of those 170,000 photographs created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) from 1935 to 1945: Programmer.

* Ringo Starr, in response to the question “How do you find America?,” asked in a Beatles press conference on the first U.S. tour

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As we look and see, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that Cab Calloway recorded “Minnie the Moocher,” the first jazz record to sell one million copies and the song that cemented the popularity of “scat” singing (which had been first popularized in 1926 by Louis Armstrong’s “Heebie Jeebies.”)

 

“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”*…

 

From his office at the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C., Roy Stryker saw, time and again, the reality of the Great Depression, and the poverty and desperation gripping America’s rural communities. As head of the Information Division and manager of the FSA’s photo-documentary project, his job was to hire and brief photographers, and then select images they captured for distribution and publication. His eye helped shape the way we view the Great Depression, even today.

Professionally, Stryker was known for two things: preserving thousands of photographs from being destroyed for political reasons, and for “killing” lots of photos himself. Negatives he liked were selected to be printed. Those he didn’t—ones that didn’t fit the narrative and perspective of the FSA at the time, perhaps—were met with the business end of hole punch, which left gaping black voids in place of hog’s bellysindustrial landscapes, and the faces of farmworkers.

In 1935, the Resettlement Administration (RA) was established as part of the New Deal to provide relief, recovery, and reform to rural areas. The FSA, created in 1937, was its spiritual successor. The FSA’s duties included, but were not limited to, operating camps for victims of the Dust Bowl, setting up homestead communities, and providing education to more than 400,000 migrant families. Communicating about its efforts was also part of its mandate…

Stryker sought out photographers, among them Dorothea LangeGordon Parks, and Arthur Rothstein, and made their images readily available to the press. Given the lack of new photography and art being produced during the Great Depression, the photos regularly appeared in magazines such as LIFE and Look. He also had them displayed at the 1936 Democratic National Convention, the 1936 World’s Fair, the Museum of Modern Art, and other prominent venues. The publication of a series of early photographs, including Lange’s Migrant Mother, proved instrumental in pushing the federal government to provide emergency aid to migrant workers in California.

In the effort to represent the FSA and Roosevelt’s signature domestic achievement in a positive light, the chosen photos captured how the idealistic views of farm life were being tainted by poverty, and how the FSA programs were helping farmers reclaim their dignity. Common elements were decrepit housing conditions, the lack of food and clean water, and harsh work environments.

It was government propaganda, and there were certainly some within the government (both supporters and detractors) who saw it that way, and more who considered both the FSA and its photography project as communist and un-American. In a 1972 Interview, Stryker admits to having felt political pressure from the Department of Agriculture to portray the effectiveness of the New Deal. “Go to hell,” was his response. His photographers “were warned repeatedly not to manipulate their subjects in order to get more dramatic images, and their pictures were almost always printed without cropping or retouching.”

But there is a way to manipulate the story being told without altering the images themselves—the process of photo editing, of choosing which images to highlight and which to discard…

The fascinating story of one man’s (materially successful) effort to galvanize social and political opinion: “How a Hole Punch Shaped Public Perception of the Great Depression.”

And for an equally-fascinating consideration of how emerging new visual technologies might similarly be used to sway sentiment, read Fred Turner‘s “The Politics of Virtual Reality.”

* Richard Avedon

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As we celebrate skepticism, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that Nolan Bushnell (co-founder of video game pioneer Atari) opened the first Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre, ultimately a chain of family destinations that served pizza and other menu items, complemented by arcade games, amusement rides, and animatronic displays as a focus of entertainment (and often, birthday party celebration).  It took its name from its main animatronic character Chuck E. Cheese, a mouse who sang and interacted with guests.  Over 600 outlets are operating today in the U.S. and 17 other countries.

Chuck E. Cheese and Nolan Bushnell (Bushnell on right)

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“It is not enough to photograph the obviously picturesque…”*

 

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, in California atop car with her giant camera. February 1936.

Dorothea Lange started her career in the 1920s as a commercial photographer in San Francisco; but in the 30s, as the Depression took hold, she instinctively tool her camera to the streets.  Then in 1935, Lange began her landmark work for the Farm Security Administration, a Federal Agency. Collaborating with her second husband, labor economist Paul S. Taylor, she documented the troubled exodus of farm families migrating West in search of work. Lange’s documentary style achieved its fullest expression in these years, with photographs such as Migrant Mother becoming instantly recognized symbols of the Depression.

California, February 1936. ”Destitute pea pickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children.”

“Migrant Mother” is one of a series of photographs that Dorothea Lange made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in Nipomo, California. Lange was concluding a month’s trip photographing migratory farm labor around the state for what was then the Resettlement Administration.

In 1960, Dorothea Lange gave this account of the Migrant Mother experience–

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

Read more of Lange’s extraordinary journey, and see more of her work at the ever-enlightening The Selvedge Yard.

California, March 1937. “Toward Los Angeles.”

* Dorothea Lange

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As we dust, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930 that the Bank of United States, a commercial bank in New York, suspended withdrawals and closed, seeking protection for the Superintendent of Banks.  The prior day, a crowd had gathered at the Southern Boulevard branch in The Bronx seeking to withdraw their money. Though there had already been a wave of small bank runs in the southeastern part of the U.S. at least as early as November 1930, it was the run on the Bank of United States, reported by the New York Times and picked up by other metros around the U.S., that historians generally agree began the Great Depression.

Crowd of depositors gather in the rain outside Bank of United States after its failure

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