Letter from The Editor, “Home Town” Book (Published 1940) – by Sherwood Anderson

FSA – Home Town – 1940 – Sherwood Anderson – Afterword

All pictures in this book are a part of the small-town coverage by the
Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration. Established
under the Resettlement Administration , this photographic project and
file is intended to document the living and working conditions of America’s
rural lower third. Under the direction of Roy E. Stryker a collection
of about 3 5 , 000 original negatives has been made over a period of
five years in all parts of the country. The photographic staff, varying
in size according to budget, has never contained more than six photographers
at any one moment. These men and women-many of whom
are well known in their field-travel on assignment and point their
cameras not merely at government projects but at anything in the rural
scene which seems significant to them. Nevertheless the FSA file has
managed to remain amazingly homogeneous and purposeful . The reason :
an inclusive attitude which makes photographer, eye and camera into
an instrument of social science.

The FSA picture record of rural America, still growing daily, has assumed
among lovers of photography the integrity of a style. It presents
clearly and sharply what has been seen and understood. Impatient with
frills and pictorial doo-dads, it has had a sobering and permanent effect
on the art of camera in America. With a defined objective always in
view, it is helping to outline the necessary cleavage between painting
and photography. In the homeland of Hollywood tricks and advertising
campaigns, 35,000 bald picture-statements of fact, widely distributed,
are doing much to keep photography an honest woman.

The colossal job of recording the ever-changing life of the American
land and its people can, of course, never be completed. Already the
existing coverage is a magnificent document, varied as weather and
topography varies, as crops and yields vary, as men vary, and races of
men. In the files are pictures of corn-fields in Iowa that would make a
farmer’s mouth water, pictures of dust and drought that would dry
anybody’s throat ; bucolic pictures of rural peace, terrible pictures of
rural poverty. It can be said without exaggeration that. neatly mounted
on gray caption cards in Washington, our time on the land is already
becoming history. The most permanent and the most fleeting, the most
gay and the most tragic-the cow barn, the migrant’s tent, the tractor·
in the field and the jalopy on the road, the weathered faces of men, the
faces of women sagging with household drudgery, the faces of children
and the faces of animals ; the homely furnishings of a North Carolina
farm house, the farmer’s overalls, his tools , the share-cropper’s rags, and
the factory-farm’s tractor-fleet-they are all here. photographed in
their’ context, in relation to their environment. In rows of filing cabinets
they wait for today’s planner and tomorrow’s historian.

The Small Town, focal point of rural life, place of exchange, forum of
ideas, is a necessary part of such a coverage. For FSA photographers it
is a continuous assignment. As they travel from project to project and
from state to state, the Small Town is their daily environment : they
drive through it, eat in it, sleep in it. Its shooting script is forever in
their pockets, calling for pictures of anything from gas stations to town
meetings, from cattle auctions to church services. Thus, over a period
of years, the FSA Small Town coverage has grown, imperceptibly and
almost of itself, into a document of several thousand negatives.

Every FSA photographer from the very beginning has had a hand in
the telling of the story. Every type of camera from a Leica to an 8 by 1 0
view camera has been used to picture every type of town-rural town,
mining town, company town, cotton town in Mississippi , corn town in
Iowa, tourist town in New England. It has been impossible to limit the
conception “Small Town” to any definite size. In this book there are
pictures from Western outposts with populations of a few hundred,
and pictures of small-town aspects of cities with populations in the tens
of thousands.

The photographers, some of whose work is here included, are Walker
Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, Marion Post ,
Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, and John Vachon. The quality of their
. work is apparent in their pictures. What is not apparent is the exceptionally
fine developing and printing, done by those anonymous workers
of photography, the laboratory technicians. The FSA laboratory combines
factory production with individual craftsmanship.

.<\,nd, of course, the most important factor in the whole business is
the benign influence of Roy Stryker, the man who first conceived the
proj ect and now makes it go, the mind that ties the other minds together
-which in itself is an achievement of subtle and firm diplomacy. Stryker
lives FSA photography. A former cowboy and professor of economics,
he takes no pictures. He has enough on his hands what with budgets,
appropriations, and the artistic temperament of those who take the
pictures for him.

The Editor .


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