29 November 2006

Bound for Glory: America in Colour 1939-1943

Chopping cotton in White Plains, Green County, Georgia, June 1941.
In The Guardian today contains this announcement of a new exhibition opening early next month at The Photographer's Gallery in London. The images are color photographs fromt the Farm Security Administration discovered relatively recently in the collection of the Library of Congess. The author of this essay, Blake Morrison, poses thoughtful questions regarding whether color images alter our view of the depression era given that the iconic photographs of the period are the black and white work of say Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. He points out that color may make things and conditions seem less bleak. But he also rightly notes that the FSA was virtually a propaganda arm of the Roosevelt administration and that policies within the agency changed in the late thirties, with its Director Roy Striker charging his photographers to focus less on hardship and despair and more on hope, determination, hard work and resolve. Morrison rightly insists that the FSA photographers "were more than supine propagandists," but the issues nonetheless remain quite complex. As I've written here a couple of times [1] [2] [3], the whole issue of "embedding" photographers with military units takes on new meaning once we start to think more generally about how the location of photographers influences the uses to which their work is put. You can link to a slideshow of some images from the "Bound for Glory" exhibition above.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time commenter.... This post made me think of an LOC archive I'd seen before, and I think it might be the same collection. 1600 color (and 160,000 black and white) pictures are available at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsowhome.html. The interface really gets in the way, though; there's a greasemonkey script that came out when this collection went around the internet about this time last year to make it a little easier to sift through. The script is available at http://simon.incutio.com/archive/2005/09/17/monkeyfun.

02 December, 2006 18:57  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Scott, Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate the links. I'd seen the fsa sit and spent some time looking for a particular Russell Lee photo to no avail. The site is virtually unusable. So I especially appreciate the script.

DOn't be shy. And I will have a look at your webpage too! I like the bovine portrait!

02 December, 2006 21:21  

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