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Collection Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

FSA OWI Photographic Prints

Photographic prints were made, usually by FSA-OWI photo laboratory staff, from those negatives that Roy Stryker and the photographers selected as suitable for printing. The prints were mounted on cardboard mounts and captions were applied to the mounts. The captions include the location and date of the photograph, the photographer's name, descriptive information, and, a negative number. During the FSA-OWI years, the mounted photographs were kept in file cabinets, organized roughly by state and subject. As the file grew, it became increasingly difficult for FSA and OWI staff to use. The OWI hired archivist Paul Vanderbilt to organize the prints for easier access. Vanderbilt recognized that access needs differed--some researchers were interested in entire photo "stories," taken in particular places or by particular photographers, while others sought individual images that showed particular subjects. Therefore, he devised two different arrangements, the LOTs and the FSA-OWI Reading Room File, which he implemented after being hired by the Library of Congress about the time the FSA-OWI Collection was transferred to the Library in 1944.


Vanderbilt described a LOT as "a set of prints which it is desired to keep together ... usually because it is a 'story' conceived and photographed as an interpretive unit." Often images from separate assignments are combined. A LOT generally consists of images with the same subject matter or from a specific geographic region. LOTs vary greatly in size from a few photographs to over one hundred photographs. For example, LOT 44 consists of 197 images by John Collier of facilities and activities at the Seabrook Farm in Bridgeport, New Jersey, as well as a Farm Security Administration camp and Fourth of July celebrations. LOT 267 contains 14 photographs by both Arthur Rothstein and Russell Lee of a tourist attraction in Wisconsin. Additional examples of LOTs can be found in Documenting America: Photographers on Assignment (via American Memory).

The majority of the LOTs are available only on microfilm. Vanderbilt arranged to have about 1,800 LOTs microfilmed, after which he re-organized the prints to form the FSA-OWI Reading Room File described below. About 400 LOTs were not microfilmed. These are kept in storage areas, and may be used by researchers in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room.

Access to the LOTs by photographer, specific geographic location, and by broad subject headings is afforded by catalog records in the Divisional Card Catalog. Information in the LOT catalog records generally includes the place, date, photographer, agency for which the images were made, and a summary of the visual subject matter. Printed listings of the LOTs by photographer and by state are also available. The listings include information given on the catalog cards and em the microfilm reel, if any, on which the LOT is found.

Copies of the microfilmed LOTs can be purchased through the Library's Photoduplication Service. Individual reels may be ordered.

Researchers who do not have access to the microfilmed LOTs will eventually be able to reconstitute them online, as the Prints and Photographs Division is in the process of recording in the catalog records for the negatives the LOT numbers in which corresponding printed images can be found.

FSA-OWI Reading Room File

After they were microfilmed as LOTs, approximately 88,000 of the original black-and-white photographic prints (consisting of 77,000 images produced by photographers under Roy Stryker's direction, about 11,000 of the prints acquired from other sources, and a few photographs that were not included in the microfilmed LOTs) were re-organized by broad geographic regions (northeastern states, southern states, etc.) and subdivided by numbered subject categories, in accordance with a classification scheme devised by Paul Vanderbilt. Photographic prints produced under the auspices of FSA were interfiled with those produced by the OWI. The prints are available in this classified arrangement in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room. Stamped on the back of each mounted print is the letter designating the geographic region in which the print is filed and the classification number that represents the subject matter of the image. Prints that were originally part of a LOT also have their LOT number stamped on the back of the mount, allowing researchers to trace an image back to the photographic assignment with which it was associated. (Occasionally, photographic prints are found in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room file that were not included in any LOT.)

In 1981, Chadwyck-Healey, Inc. published as a microfiche set, entitled America 1935-1946 External that includes the 88,000 photographs in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room file. The images on the microfiche are in the same geographic region/subject arrangement as in the Reading Room File. Each of the six major geographic regions represented may be purchased separately. The microfiche publication includes an index by FSA-OWI subject categories. The set may be available at major research and public libraries, where patrons can use it for research and selection purposes.