FSA and its contribution to society
The Documentary photography genre describes photographs that would work as a time capsule for evidence in the future or a certain method that a person can use for a frame of reference. Facts presented in a photograph can speak for themselves after the viewer gets time to analyze it. Documentary photography does not just stop there by taking pictures of human beings in poor conditions; it also runs in the veins of several aspects of society. Photographs of revolutions, accidents, or speeches all fall under that same style, as we could tell from the picture what went on because it simply was taken in order to let others be aware of what was happening during that period.
Not only that, but also the concept of manipulating the picture is available in documentary photography and it all falls at the end of the day under the decision of the photographer. For example, lining up the characters in the picture may strengthen the message of the photograph. Camera angle might also play a crucial part in sending the message more clearly, for example if a photographer is trying to take a photograph of a march of protestors during a revolution, the camera angle will play a major role in defining the situation.
The FSA started the tradition by contributing to the society through their pictures during the Great Depression, and their motto was simply as Beaumont Newhall insists, “not to inform us, but to move us. Those photographers wanted the government to move and give a hand to the people as they were completely neglected and overlooked and thus they decided to start taking photographs in a style that we today call “documentary photography.” The FSA photography has been influential thanks to its realist point of view, and the fact that it works as frame of reference and an educational tool for later generations to learn from. Society has benefited and will benefit from it for more years to come, as this photography can unveil the ambiguous and question the conditions that are taking place.
The RA and FSA are well known for the influence of their photography program, 1935–1944. Photographers and writers were hired to report and document the plight of poor farmers. The Information Division of the FSA was responsible for providing educational materials and press information to the public. Under Roy Stryker, the Information Division of the FSA adopted a goal of “introducing America to Americans.” Many of the most famous Depression-era photographers were fostered by the FSA project. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks were three of the most famous FSA alumni. The FSA was also cited in Gordon Parks‘ autobiographical novel, “A Choice of Weapons.”
The FSA photography group consisted of (listed in order in which they were hired): Arthur Rothstein, Theo Jung, Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Carl Mydans, Russell Lee, Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, John Vachon, and John Collier. These eleven photographers all played a significant role, not only in producing images for this project, but also in molding the resulting images in the final project through conversations held between the group members. The photographers produced images that breathed a humanistic social visual catalyst of the sort found in novels, theatrical productions and music of the time. Their images are now regarded as a “national treasure” in the United States; which is why this project is regarded as a work of art.
Together with John Steinbeck‘s The Grapes of Wrath (not a government project) and documentary prose (for example Walker Evans and James Agee‘s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), the FSA photography project is most responsible for creating the image of the Depression in the United States. Many of the images appeared in popular magazines.
The photographers were under instruction from Washington as to what overall impression the New Deal wanted to portray. Stryker’s agenda focused on his faith in social engineering, the poor conditions among tenant cotton farmers, and the very poor conditions among migrant farm workers; above all he was committed to social reform through New Deal intervention in people’s lives. Stryker demanded photographs that “related people to the land and vice versa” because these photographs reinforced the RA’s position that poverty could be controlled by “changing land practices.”
Though Stryker did not dictate to his photographers how they should compose the shots, he did send them lists of desirable themes, for example, “church,” “court day,” “barns.”
Stryker sought photographs of migratory workers that would tell a story about how they lived day-to-day. He asked Dorothea Lange to emphasize cooking, sleeping, praying and socializing.
RA-FSA made 250,000 images of rural poverty. Fewer than half of those images survive and are housed in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. The Library has placed all 164,000 developed negatives online. From these some 77,000 different finished photographic prints were originally made for the press, plus 644 color images from 1600 negatives.