“The one thing I found in traveling through the United States was that every man and every woman was different.”—Arthur Rothstein
“[Rothstein’s] belief in social progress didn’t congeal into a rigid ideology of the lens. Instead, it opened him to the stunning variety of human landscapes in the far corners of the republic.”—George Packer on Arthur Rothstein
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.
Arthur Rothstein was born in New York in 1915. In the early 1930s he attended Columbia University, where he studied with Roy Stryker, who later hired him at the FSA. During his five years as an FSA photographer, Rothstein produced a gripping visual record of the country’s poor that included Virginia farmers, the Dust Bowl, cattle ranchers in Montana, and a tenant community in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. After World War II he joined Look magazine, serving as director of photography until the magazine ceased production in 1971. He died in 1985.
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.
George Packer (born August 13, 1960) is an American journalist, novelist, and playwright. He is best known for his writings for The New Yorker and for his book The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq (2005). Packer also wrote The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, covering the history of America from 1978 to 2012. In November 2013, The Unwinding received the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
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.
Table of contents
- Preface by W. Ralph Eubanks, former director of publishing, Library of Congress
- Introduction by George Packer
- Image credits