The approximately 172,000 film negatives and transparencies in the Library of Congress’ collection from the Farm Security Administration (FSA), later the Office of War Information (OWI), provide a unique view of American life during the Great Depression and World War II. This government photography project, headed by Roy E. Stryker, employed many relatively unknown names who later became some of the 20th century’s best-known photographers.
Gordon Parks was born in 1912 in Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of fifteen children in a poor tenant-farming family. He was working odd jobs in Minnesota when he saw the work of FSA photographers in a magazine and was inspired to buy a camera. Parks’ early pictures landed him a position as Roy Stryker’s apprentice in 1942. Among his extraordinary FSA photos is “American Gothic,” which shows charwoman Ella Watson posed with mop and broom against an American flag. After the FSA, Parks worked at Life magazine. He also became a respected writer and film director. He died in 2006.
Each volume in the Fields of Vision series features an introduction to the work of a single FSA/OWI photographer by a leading contemporary author or writer, and presents 50 striking images that show how the particular vision of these photographers helped shape the collective identity of America. Their evocative pictures transport the viewer to American homes, farms, and streets of the 1930s and 1940s, while offering a glimpse of a new narrative and intimate style that was later to blossom on the pages of post-war magazines. For many Americans of the pre-television age, the diversity and complexity of their country was defined by the lenses of these men and women.
Dr. Charles Johnson is a novelist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, cartoonist, and professor emeritus at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is a MacArthur Fellow and the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature and a National Book Award for his novel Middle Passage.
Series Editor Amy Pastan is an independent editor and book packager. She was formerly a staff editor at
the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and acquisitions editor at the Smithsonian Institution Press, where she developed volumes on photography and fine arts.