“We just took pictures that cried out to be taken.”—Ben Shahn
“No matter where he pointed his camera, Shahn could not help but find a telling detail that went beneath the surface. Sent to document the brutality of the Depression, he came home with that, plus its heart.”—Timothy Egan on Ben Shahn
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.
Ben Shahn was a Lithuanian-born American artist and member of the Social Realist movement. Born in 1898 in Kaunas, Lithuania into an Orthodox Jewish family, he and his family emigrated to New York in 1906. In 1935, Shahn was recommended by Walker Evans, a friend and former roommate, to Roy Stryker to join the photographic group at the Resettlement Administration and its successor, the FSA. He died in 1969.
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.
Timothy Egan is the author of eight books. His most recent book, The Immortal Irishman, was a New York Times bestseller. His account of the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time won the 2006 National Book Award, considered one of the nation’s highest literary honours, and he was featured prominently in the 2012 Ken Burns film on the Dust Bowl. He writes an online opinion column for The New York Times. As a Times correspondent, he shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 with a team of reporters for its series, “How Race is Lived in America.”
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 Timothy Egan
- Image credits