November 21, 2011 Pioneer of American Documentary Photography Is Subject of Book Discussion

Louise Rosskam Worked for Social Reform Through Her Pictures

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Louise Rosskam (1910–2003) was an elusive pioneer of the golden age of American documentary photography from the 1930s through the 1960s. Often in collaboration with her better-known husband, Edwin (1903–1985), Louise Rosskam photographed for the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, the U.S. Treasury Department, the Standard Oil Company, the Office of Information for Puerto Rico and the New Jersey Department of Education. To her government, corporate and commercial projects she brought a vision infused with compassion, humor and far-reaching social purpose.

“Re-viewing Documentary: The Photographic Life of Louise Rosskam” (Penn State University Press, 2011) is the first study to assess her contributions to the Rosskam team in the context of the larger field of social-reform photography. It addresses the boundaries she traversed in negotiating her role in a profession in which women were making dynamic strides. The book also serves as the catalog for an exhibition of the same name on view through Dec. 14 at American University’s Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. in Washington, D.C.

The book, by Laura Katzman and Beverly Brannan, is the subject of a discussion and signing on Thursday, Dec. 8, at noon in the Mary Pickford Theater, located on the third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. This event, part of the Books & Beyond author series, is free and open to the public; no tickets are required. The Center for the Book and the Prints and Photographs Division are co-sponsors.

“Re-viewing Documentary” reveals how Rosskam embraced the documentary impulse of the age, broadened the mass-media uses of documentary work and even recognized the mode’s limitations. It features her poignant photographs of a Southwest Washington neighborhood before its destruction for urban-renewal projects and highlights the extraordinary photographs she and Edwin created in Puerto Rico as it developed from an impoverished U.S. possession to an industrialized commonwealth. In doing so, they helped expand the perimeters -- geographic and ideological -- of U.S. documentary practice.

Laura Katzman is a guest curator at the American University Museum and an associate professor of art history at James Madison University. Beverly Brannan is a curator in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division.

The “Re-viewing Documentary” book is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The Books & Beyond Book Club is available at Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard.

Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to "stimulate public interest in books and reading," the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress ( has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages, nationally and internationally. The center provides leadership for 52 affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading-promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center.


PR 11-226
ISSN 0731-3527