The Photographers Who Captured the Great DepressionBreaking News
tags: photography, Great Depression, Dorothea Lange, Federal Writers Project, Gordon Parks
Recently, there’s been talk about reviving the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), a Depression-era government program that employed the era’s out-of-work writers. The original FWP saw the hiring of thousands of writers who produced guidebooks, oral histories, children’s books, and more.
Photographers were also doing important government-sponsored work at the same time. As photographer and historian Michael L. Carlebach explains, the photography program sponsored by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) “was the first attempt by the federal government to provide a broad visual record of American society.”
From 1935 to 1944, the FSA employed photographers to take images of the United States. It wasn’t as much about art as it was a political project, according to Carlebach. The FSA images “were intended to persuade Americans that changes needed to be made in the agricultural sector, and that New Deal programs were effective,” he writes.
The program was led by Roy Stryker, who was head of the FSA’s Historical Section. In Carlebach’s words, Stryker hired photographers to capture “images that explained America to Americans at the same time that they raised public and Congressional support for FDR’s most controversial farm programs.” The program employed photographers who are now well known—Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Gordon Parks among them—each taking photos that even Stryker couldn’t have imagined. “I expected competence,” he said in an interview. “I did not expect to be shocked at what began to come across my desk…. Every day was for me an education and a revelation.”