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Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information Materials

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The photographs of the Farm Security Administration (FSA)-Office of War Information (OWI), transferred to the Library of Congress in 1944, form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1943. This U.S. government photography project was headed by Roy E. Stryker, formerly an economics instructor at Columbia University, and engaged such photographers as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Jack Delano, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, John Vachon, and Carl Mydans. The project initially documented the Resettlement Administration's cash loans to individual farmers, and the agency's construction of planned suburban communities. The second stage focused on the lives of sharecroppers in the South and of migratory agricultural workers in the midwestern and western states. As the scope of the project expanded, the photographers turned to recording rural and urban conditions throughout the United States and mobilization efforts for World War II.

The collection encompasses the approximately 77,000 images made by photographers working in Stryker's unit as it existed in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (RA, 1935-37), the Farm Security Administration (FSA, 1937-42), and the Office of War Information (OWI, 1942-44). In addition, the collection includes photographs produced by other government agencies (e.g., the Office of Emergency Management) and collected from various non-government sources. In total, the collection consists of approximately 171,000 black-and-white film negatives, 107,000 black-and-white photographic prints, and 1,610 color transparencies.

Online Materials

Prints & Photographs Division

The core of the FSA-OWI Collection consists of approximately 171,000 black-and-white negatives, encompassing both negatives that were printed for FSA-OWI use and those that were not printed at the time ("killed" negatives). The negatives have been digitized and cataloged, and are available via World Wide Web, through the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

FSA-OWI Black-and-White Negatives
The black-and-white portion of the collection consists of about 171,000 black-and-white film negatives, encompassing both negatives that were printed for FSA-OWI use and those that were not printed at the time.
Through the Web site, it is possible for researchers to see for the first time images that were not made available during the years of the FSA-OWI photographic unit's operation and that are not represented by corresponding photographic prints (the portion of the collection that has been available to the public for several decades at the Library of Congress). Although the unprinted negatives are often simply alternate views of images that were printed, by viewing both printed and unprinted negatives, researchers may be able to glean additional visual information. The Web site also offers a feature that enables users to browse the negatives by their "call numbers." The resulting display mimics a printed "contact sheet," often used by photographers to make an initial examination of exposed negatives. Viewing the images in this way enables users to view related printed and unprinted negatives. It may also offer insight on photographers' working methods and on the operating procedures of the FSA-OWI photographic unit.

The FSA-OWI negatives are arranged in series based on issuing agency, film type, and whether the negative is an original or a copy negative. The letters and numbers used in the prefix of the "reproduction number" for each image encodes this information. For example, the prefix "LC-USF33" designates: Farm Security Administration 35 millimeter original film negative. The negatives are being digitized and cataloged series by series. Digitized images and accompanying catalog records will be added to the Web site in stages as the work is completed. (The same images and records are also available through a Library of Congress American Memory Web site: America From the Great Depression to World War II: Black-and-White Photographs from the FSA - OWI, 1935-1945).

FSA-OWI Color Photographs
Photographers working for the U.S. government's Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later the Office of War Information (OWI) between 1939 and 1944 made approximately 1,600 color photographs that depict life in the United States, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The pictures focus on rural areas and farm labor, as well as aspects of World War II mobilization, including factories, railroads, aviation training, and women working.

The original images are color transparencies ranging in size from 35 mm. to 4x5 inches. They complement the better-known black-and-white FSA/OWI photographs, made during the same period. (The same images and records are also available through a Library of Congress American Memory Web site: America From the Great Depression to World War II: Color Photographs from the FSA - OWI, 1935-1945).

Related Materials in Other Divisions

American Folklife Center

The American Folklife Center holds a collection of Farm Security Administration and Resettlement Administration recordings, correspondence, field notes and other materials. The Division's online presentation Voices from the Dust Bowl provides access to 371 audio titles, 23 graphic images, a sampling of the dust jackets, and all the print material in the collection. Covering a period between 1940 and 1941, this collection documents the lives of Dust Bowl migrants living in Farm Security Administration (FSA) camps in California.

Manuscript Division

The Manuscript Division holds the personal papers of FSA photographers Jack Delano, Arthur Rothstein, and John Vachon:

Papers of Jack Delano, 1927-1995 (bulk 1941-1943).
ID No.: MSS84274
Description: 700 items. 6 containers plus 1 oversize. 2.4 linear feet.
Finding aid: [outline view][PDF: 25KB / 5 pages; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view].
Photographer, film maker, classical music composer, and book illustrator. Born 1914 as Jacob Ovcharov in Kiev, Ukraine; immigrated to the U.S. in 1922; died 1997 in Puerto Rico where he had lived since 1946.
Summary: chiefly correspondence, notebooks, and caption books relating to works by Delano as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information depicting the Great Depression, railroads in the West, Acadian farmers in Maine, and life in the South and in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Also includes transcript of an oral history interview conducted with Delano sponsored by the Archives of American Art and material relating to Elizabeth Kenny.
Notes: most photographs in the collection are housed in the Prints & Photographs Division.

Papers of Arthur Rothstein, 1936-2000 (bulk 1952-1985)
ID No.: MSS84965
Description: 3,150 items. 9 containers. 3.6 linear feet.
Unpublished finding aid-- contact the Manuscript Reading Room for further information.
Access Advisory: Restrictions apply. Correspondence, memoranda, speeches and lectures, writings, notes, subject files, transcripts, press clippings, and other papers relating to Rothstein’s career as a photographer for the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA) and Look and Parade magazines and as an educator on the subject of photography. Subjects include rural and small town America from 1935 until the early 1940s. Includes a transcript of a 1952 conversation between Roy Emerson Stryker and FSA photographers Dorothea Lange, Rothstein, and John Vachon pertaining to their work.
Notes: Most photographs, negatives, and contact sheets transferred to Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Papers of John Vachon, 1913-1995 (bulk 1935-1959)
ID No.: MSS85246
Description: 4,000 items; 12 containers; 4.6 linear feet.
Finding aid: [outline view] [PDF: 28KB / 6 pages; requires the free Adobe Acrobat reader to view].
Photographer. Correspondence, family papers, writings, and miscellaneous material relating primarily to Vachon’s career as a photographer with the Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information, and Look magazine.
The Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has custody of John Vachon’s photographic collection of prints and negatives.

Collection Guides

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection
This guide provides administrative and background information on the collection, a bibliography, and information on related collections at other instititutions.

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection: An Overview

Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection: 15 Popular Requests

Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection: 15 Popular Staff Selections

Photographers of the FSA: Selected Portraits

Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Photographers

Educational Materials

Collection Connections
Collection Connections for educators provide activity ideas for using the collections to develop critical-thinking skills.

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Black-and-White Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945
Summary and teaching resources.

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Color Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945
Summary and teaching resources.

Exhibitions

Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939-1943
The first major exhibition of the little known color images taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. These vivid scenes and portraits capture the effects of the Depression on America's rural and small town populations, the nation's subsequent economic recovery and industrial growth, and the country's mobilization for World War II.

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  November 18, 2013
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