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Documenting America, 1935-1943: The Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photo Collection
Carl Fleischhauer

Meet Carl Fleischhauer, Project Manager, Office of Strategic Initiatives, Library of Congress.

Carl Fleischhauer, co-author of a book about the FSA-OWI photo collection, uses Webcast 1, “About the FSA Collection,” to sketch the history of this famous project that documented American life from the Great Depression to the first years of World War II. In Webcast 2, “Learning from the FSA Collection,” Carl explains how to use the photographs and other materials to better understand the time, the people in the pictures, and the documentary process.

View Webcast 1: About the FSA Collection | Read Transcript
View Webcast 2: Learning from the FSA Collection | Read Transcript

Library of Congress Web Sites of Interest

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives
The full FSA/OWI collection of about 175,000 black-and-white film negatives, encompassing both negatives that were printed for FSA-OWI use and those that were not printed at the time, accompanied by extensive contextualizing information.

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs
The collection of 1,600 FSA/OWI color photographs depicting life in the United States, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, focusing on rural areas and farm labor, as well as aspects of World War II mobilization, including factories, railroads, aviation training, and women working.

New Deal Programs: Selected Library of Congress Resources
A Web guide created to serve as a starting point for research using Library of Congress collections of New Deal program materials. While this guide is by no means comprehensive, it provides an overview of special collections held by the Library of Congress and links to digitized materials and selected resources relating to New Deal programs in Library of Congress divisions. The guide also links to major collections of New Deal program materials held at other institutions.

Exhibit:  Bound for Glory: America in Color
Comprising seventy digital prints made from color transparencies taken between 1939 and 1943, Bound for Glory: America in Color is the first major exhibition of the little known color images taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI).

Women Photojournalists: Prints & Photographs Division Holdings
This overview highlights the work of women photojournalists represented in the Library’s Prints & Photographs collections.  It includes the work of FSA/OWI photographers such as Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Dorothea Lange, Ann Rosener, Louise Rosskam, and Marion Post Wolcott.

Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother”: Resources
An overview and reference aid for the “Migrant Mother” series in the collections of the Prints & Photographs Division.
The “Migrant Mother” series as an example of photographic research.

Today in History
Search the Today in History archives on terms such as depression, FSA, and OWI to find entries and examples related to the FSA/OWI photographs in addition to those listed below:

  • June 13: The Office of War Information was created.
  • July 16: Photographer Walker Evans took a leave of absence from the FSA and went on to publish Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
  • October 11: Documentary photographer Dorothea Lange died at the age of seventy.

Teachers Page
Search the Teachers Page (search box at top left) on FSA/OWI to find materials related to the FSA/OWI collections in addition to those listed below:

Other Web Sites of Interest

New Deal Agriculture - National Archives
Information on primary and secondary sources available through the National Archives that deal with topics of New Deal agriculture policy, and links to related Web sites.

Curriculum Guide:  Sights and Sounds of the Farm Security Administration, 1935-1943 - Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum External Link (scroll down to access resource)
A curriculum guide with YouTube tie-in, created by the Education and Archives staff of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum.

Walker Evans - Metropolitan Museum of Art External Link
Biographical essay on Walker Evans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.

Dorothea Lange Archive - Oakland Museum of California External Link
Digital finding aid to the Oakland Museum of California’s Lange Archive, comprising Lange's personal negative file of more than 25,000 images, over 6,000 vintage prints, and a selection from Lange's personal papers and library.

Roy Stryker Papers - University of Louisville External Link
This archive of the career of Roy Stryker includes his correspondence from 1924 to 1972, fifteen hundred prints from his personal collection of photographs, manuscripts, negatives, tear sheet files, clippings, and shooting scripts.

"Bridging the Urban Landscape" - Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh External Link (Roy Stryker) External Link (Esther Bubley)
Online exhibit of some 600 historical photographs and images, accompanied by text, of Pittsburgh, its bridges and its neighborhoods, drawn from the unique resources of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Department.  Includes essays about Stryker and Bubley with links to photographs by Bubley.

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Other Materials of Interest

Selected Annotated Bibliography by Carl Fleischhauer and Barbara Orbach Natanson

NOTE:  A more extensive bibliography for the FSA/OWI Collection at the Library of Congress is available at

Agee, James, and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families. 1941. Rev. ed.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960.
LC call number:  F326 .A17 1960
This study of three white Alabama tenant farming families began as an article for Fortune magazine.  It is at once documentary, nudging at the boundaries of that genre in both writing and photography; and personal, especially in James Agee's explorations of his odyssey as "spy" and reporter.  Although Walker Evans was on informal leave from his FSA photo-unit duties, his photographs from the trip are part of the Library's collections.

Baldwin, Sidney. Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968.
LC call number:  HD1765 1935 .B3
Careful and thorough historical study of the FSA that catalogs the agency's successes and failures in the context of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.  Although illustrated by ten FSA/OWI photographs, this book gives Stryker's photographic unit only brief mention in the text, possibly a measure of the unit's real impact on the policy-making and operations of the larger agency at the time.

Dixon, Penelope. Photographers of the Farm Security Administration: An Annotated Bibliography, 1930-1980. New York: Garland Publishing, 1983. 
LC call number:  Z7136.D63 D59 1983
A useful bio-bibliography that offers background information on thirteen of the most prolific FSA/OWI photographers, as well as publications by and about them; and publications and exhibitions that featured FSA/OWI photographs from the 1930s through the 1970s.

Evans, Walker. American Photographs. With an essay by Lincoln Kirstein. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1938.
LC call number:  E169 .E85
This catalog from a 1938 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City played a significant role in establishing fine-art credentials for documentary photography--which Evans once called "documentary style"--and for photography in general.  Walker Evans: American Photographs was the first MOMA exhibition devoted to the work of a single photographer. The catalog includes an essay by Lincoln Kirstein, a long-time friend of Evans.

Fleischhauer, Carl, and Beverly W. Brannan, eds. Documenting America, 1935-1943. With essays by Lawrence W. Levine and Alan Trachtenberg. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
LC call number:  E806 .D616 1988
Fifteen photographic series selected from the FSA/OWI collection that sketch how the photographers received their shooting assignments and gathered their pictorial coverage.  The introductory essays place the FSA/OWI photo-documentary project in a historical context and examine the ways in which people read photographs for meaning.

Hurley, F. Jack. Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972.
LC call number:  TR820.5 .H87
An important and thorough study of the FSA/OWI photographic unit, this 1972 book provided many readers with their first introduction to the project, its history, and the role of its director.  Hurley worked closely with Stryker as he carried out his research and the book reflects Stryker's views of the unit's activity and its impact.

-----.  Russell Lee, Photographer. With an introduction by Robert Coles.  Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Morgan & Morgan, 1978.
LC call number:  TR820.5 .L42
A study of the photographer's work from 1935 to the 1960s; with an accompanying text that sketches Lee's biography, based on interviews from the 1960s and 1970s, many made by the author.  The book reproduces about 150 photographs, roughly half of which are from the FSA/OWI project.

Lange, Dorothea, and Paul Schuster Taylor. An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion. 1939. Reprint, Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 1999.
LC call number: HD1525 .L3
Written and photographed by the husband and wife team of Taylor and Lange, this book assembles pictures, statistics, news clippings, and commentary to describe the causes and circumstances of people displaced by the dual cataclysms of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.  Its intellectual thrust provides a framework for reading Lange's lifelong photographic opus, always rich in advocacy for the less fortunate.

Library of Congress. Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939-43. With an introduction by Paul Hendrickson. New York: H. N. Abrams in association with the Library of Congress, 2004.
LC call number:  TR820.5 .B685 2004.
A varied and well-produced cross-section of the color photographs produced by the FSA/OWI photographers.

Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division. Walker Evans: Photographs for the Farm Security Administration, 1935-1938: A Catalog of Photographic Prints Available from the Farm Security Administration Collection in the Library of Congress. Introduction by Jerald C. Maddox. 1973. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1975.
LC call number:  HN57 .U555 1975
Walker Evans holds great interest for lovers and historians of photography.  This book responds to that interest by compiling a catalogue raisonné for Evans's work included in the Library's FSA/OWI collection.  Since its publication, a few additional Evans photographs have been identified and reproductions of these additional images are held in a looseleaf binder in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Reading Room.

Meltzer, Milton. Dorothea Lange: A Photographer's Life. 1978. Reprinted with a foreword by Naomi Rosenblum. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000.
LC call number:  TR140.L3 M445 2000
A thorough and sympathetic biography of Lange, including chapters devoted to her work for the FSA.

Mora, Gilles, and Beverly W. Brannan. FSA: The American Vision. New York: Abrams, 2006.
LC call number:  TR820.5 .B736 2006
A handsomely printed book that traces the history of the FSA/OWI photographic unit through a series of more or less chronological portfolios devoted to the work of individual photographers.  Beverly Brannan's introduction provides a historical overview of the project.

Natanson, Nicholas. The Black Image in the New Deal: The Politics of FSA Photography. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992. 
LC call number:  E185.6 .N245 1992
This analysis of the FSA/OWI photographic unit's treatment of African American subjects examines the representation quantitatively and considers the particular contexts in which photographers carried out their photo assignments.  Natanson also compares the FSA/OWI coverage of this subject matter to that of other documentary and government photographic efforts from the period, and explores where and how the FSA/OWI photographs appeared in publications and exhibits.  Altogether, an illuminating look at the operations of the FSA/OWI photographic unit and its impact.

Parks, Gordon. A Choice of Weapons. 1966.  Reprinted with a new foreword by Wing Young Huie. St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010.
LC call number:  TR140.P35 A3 2010
Parks's fascinating and lively autobiography includes two chapters that describe his work as a young man in the FSA/OWI photographic unit, which Parks saw as shaping his documentary approach in important and lasting ways.

Stott, William.  Documentary Expression and Thirties America. 1973.  Reprinted with a new afterword. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
LC call number:  P96.D622 U67 1986
This book explores the breadth and depth of the fascination with documentary and the American vernacular during the New Deal period, reinforced by federal programs that provided financial support to artists and writers.  The text emphasizes the period's non-fiction writing, filmmaking, and photography, but it also reports on how vernacular expression and the documentary "motive" inspired dramatists, composers, mural painters, choreographers, and writers of fiction. 

Stryker, Roy Emerson, and Nancy Wood. In This Proud Land: America, 1935-1943, As Seen in the FSA Photographs. 1973. Reprint, Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1975.
LC call number:  TR820.5 .S87 1975
One of the earliest of a large number of coffee-table books to feature a portfolio of compelling FSA/OWI images.  Stryker is the former director of the FSA/OWI photographic unit and he assisted in the selection and presentation of the photographs.

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  January 19, 2016
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