F.S.A: The Bitter Years of the American Depression

  December –
February 2002

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange featured in the exhibition F.S.A | The Bitter Years of the American Depression at Gallery of Photography Ireland, December 6 – February 5 2002.

The Farm Security Administration (F.S.A) produced some of the most memorable and iconic images of the 20th century. Between 1935 and 1942, the F.S.A headed by Roy E. Stryker, employed an exceptional team of photographers including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Jack Delano, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, John Vachon and Carl Mydans.

In 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Resettlement Administration (R.A) as part of his ‘New Deal’ strategy to cope with the Great Depression. The R.A project was set up to bring financial aid to thousands of rural communicites affected by the ‘Dust Bowl’ and competition from mechanical agricultural practices. In 1937 the R.A was incorporated into the Department of Agriculture and became the Farm Security Administration.

In 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Resettlement Administration (R.A) as part of his ‘New Deal’ strategy to cope with the Great Depression. The R.A project was set up to bring financial aid to thousands of rural communicites affected by the ‘Dust Bowl’ and competition from mechanical agricultural practices. In 1937 the R.A was incorporated into the Department of Agriculture and became the Farm Security Administration.

Over a period of seven years, thousands of images were taken by this remarkable team of photographers, chosen by Stryker for their humanist concerns. These photographers, being at the same time journalists, social commentators and artists, worked with a clear political and social purpose. The methods they employed: the careful arrangement of subject matter; the portrayal of sitters as ‘victims’; and the adherence to predetermined points of view, were intended to marshal public sympathy. They deliberately utilised the persuasive power of photography to shape public opinion and affect social change. This calculated approach to image making raised important questions about the relationship between ‘truth’ and photography.

Ultimately, this enduring pictorial record reflects the hardship and heroism of the Great Depression, and the lives and beliefs of the image makers their subjects and their audience. This remarkable photographic project, which includes some of the best known photographic images: Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Walker Evans’ portraits of the Burroughs family and Arthur Rothstein’s Fleeing a Dust Storm, is a landmark in the history of documentary photographic practice.