Originally created 07/12/98

Library of Congress site gives history reminder

THE SITE: The Library of Congress: American Memory

THE ADDRESS: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsowhome.html

THE REASON: Never-before-seen photos of the Great Depression

These are prosperous times for America, we're told. Just look at our booming stock market. In the living memory of many Americans, however, is a time when the market went bust and prosperity was a dream achieved by very few.

That time, of course, was the Great Depression.

As part of its enormous National Digital Library Program, the Library of Congress has just made thousands of photographic images from that important period available to be viewed for the first time, literally. These photos, taken by some of the most renowned photographers of the 20th century, constitute one of several collections that make up the library's American Memory Web site.

Nearly 45,000 printed and unprinted black and white images of "America From the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration Office and Office of War Information, 1935-1944." are being released. (The collection will eventually grow to 164,000.) Many that existed only as negatives can be viewed here for the first time.

Included are several unprinted images from photographs by Walker Evans that led to the book "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," published with writer James Agee, as well as works by Ben Shahn, Gordon Parks, Esther Bubley, Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, Carl Mydans and others.

Like many artists struggling through those difficult years, they were able to continue practicing their craft by working for the government. Under the direction of Roy Stryker, a former Columbia University economics instructor, they were recruited to use their cameras to report on the effects the Depression was having on America.

Initially, their photographs emphasized rural life and the hardships caused by farm mechanization and the Dust Bowl. Later, they documented the nation's wartime mobilization. You'll see Shahn's gritty photos of cotton pickers and Lange's despairing images of migrant workers. Arthur Rothstein takes you to a rural Alabama tenant farm, while Evans captures urban life in Manhattan.

Insightful commentary accompanies each collection, describing the photographer and the circumstances under which the images were made. You'll also find a helpful bibliography that refers to related Web sites.

The library has committed itself to presenting each photographer's work in its entirety, reproducing virtually every frame that they shot -- even double exposures. This will be of particular value to photo historians trying to assess their working methods. Photos can be viewed in the most common .gif and .jpeg formats as well as a special high resolution .tiff format. (Links are provided to any needed plug-ins.)

For students of history, for students of photography, for anyone with an interest in a time that tested the nation's mettle, this site is a must see.


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