Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940, Jill Brett (202) 707-2905
June 18, 1993
Traveling Exhibition Documents America, 1935-1943
"Documenting America, 1935-1943," a selection of photographs produced by the U.S. government's Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information (FSA/OWI), is a traveling exhibition created by the Library of Congress Interpretive Programs Office. A slightly larger version of the exhibition was first displayed at the Library in December 1988 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the invention of photography.
A companion book of the same title has been published by the University of California Press, edited by Library of Congress staff members Carl Fleischhauer and Beverley Brannan. In addition to many reproductions, the book contains historical essays about the FSA/OWI project by Lawrence W. Levine, professor of history, University of California, Berkeley, and Alan Trachtenberg, professor of American Studies and English at Yale University.
The traveling exhibition consists of 198 images printed from the original negatives in the collections of the Library of Congress. Twelve photographers are represented. Among the best known are Gordon Parks, Marion Post Wolcott, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange. The others are Marjory Collins, Esther Bubley, Ben Shahn, John Collier Jr., Jack Delano, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, and John Vachon.
Their work depicts a broad cross section of American life as the nation recovered from the Great Depression and entered the Second World War. While many of these images are well-known, their presentation in this exhibition in the context of a series from a particular assignment provides new insights into the background of the government "make work" project that produced them and each photographer's approach to a subject.
Roy Stryker, who directed the photographers for the Farm Security Administration, insisted that they cover a subject comprehensively, with a sharp eye for detail. When Gordon Parks was assigned to photograph Ella Watson, a government cleaning worker, he shot everything from the view from her apartment window to the items on her nightstand. A sequence of Walker Evans' photographs of a single block on East 61st Street in New York City or Dorothea Lange's shots of migrant workers in California show how individual photographers approached specific assignments.
"Documenting America, 1935-1943" provides an exceptionally vivid reminder that since its invention 150 years ago, the camera has progressed from an instrument of novelty to a powerful force for social documentation.
Through its traveling exhibition program, the Library of Congress shares the richness of its collections -- now numbering more than 101 million items -- with other libraries and cultural institutions around the nation to reach even wider and more varied audiences.
The Library's Interpretive Programs Office offers three types of presentations: small, freestanding facsimile exhibitions exploring ideas and issues of contemporary significance that are ideally suited for libraries, schools and universities; medium-sized exhibitions that combine facsimiles and original materials, which are appropriate for museums and other facilities that can meet certain security and environmental requirements; and major interpretive exhibitions containing original and often valuable artifacts that are suitable only for those institutions that can officer high security for the exhibitions.
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