“I always had the feeling…that something was going to happen in front of me, and when it did, I wanted my camera to be there.”—Carl Mydans
“What made [Mydans] an outstanding photographer, sensitive and conscientious, was his smart ability to grasp a large event and in his bones know how to capture its essence…”—Annie Proulx on Carl Mydans
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.
Carl Mydans was born in Boston in 1907 and earned a degree in journalism from Boston University in 1930. In 1935 he joined the Resettlement Administration (which became the FSA) as a photographer. Mydans travelled in the South, documenting agricultural workers and rural poverty, and toured New England towns hard-hit by the Depression. His work was distinguished by his ability to tell an entire story in a single image. After sixteen months with the government, Mydans left to work at Life magazine, where he stayed until the magazine closed in the early 1970s. He died in 2004.
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.
Annie Proulx lives in Wyoming and New Mexico, where she writes fiction and essays. She won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her first novel, Postcards. Her second novel, The Shipping News (1993), won both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and was adapted as a 2001 film of the same name. Her short story “Brokeback Mountain” was adapted as an Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe Award-winning major motion picture released in 2005.
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 Annie Proulx
- Image credits