The Modern World During and After the World Wars, C. 1914–1960


What does the Farm Security Administration have to do with art?

In 1935, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was established in order to document and communicate the devastating impact of the Great Depression, especially on farm workers and the rural poor. American economist Roy Stryker hired a team of photographers that included Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, among others. Walker Evans (1903–1975) had studied literature in Paris and was direct in his approach to photography. His work powerfully documents struggling families, notably in West Virginia, during the period between World Wars I and II. Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) had a photography studio in San Francisco, but when hired by Roy Stryker, she traveled to see first-hand what migrant farm workers had to endure. Her photographs, including Migrant Mother (1936), Migratory Cotton Picker (1940), and Wife of a Migratory Farmer in Her Makeshift Tent Home, are eloquent and forceful. Upon seeing her work, a London critic exclaimed, “What poet has said so much? What painter has shown so much?” (quoted in Fleming and Honour 817). The influential Farm Security Administration’s photography program lasted until 1944 and made a major impact on American awareness of poverty, as well as on the role of documentary photography.


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