“We are today making a conscious effort to…leave for the future a very living document of our age, of what people today look like, of what they do and build.”—John Vachon
“The greatness of Vachon’s portrait of America is that it’s not a happy-all-the-time Bedford Falls nor a ghastly Pottersville, neither propagandistically pro- nor anti-American, but achieves some truer, more complicated, liminal version of the nation at midcentury.”—Kurt Andersen on John Vachon
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.
John Vachon was born in 1914 in Minnesota. He joined the FSA in 1936 as an assistant messenger and became an official photographer in 1941. Unlike the photographs of most of his FSA peers, Vachon’s are, for the most part, distinctly urban. In 1947 he started shooting for Life and Look magazines, and remained as a staff photographer at Look until it closed in 1971. He died in 1975.
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.
Kurt Andersen is the author of RESET: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America, as well as the critically acclaimed novels Heyday, winner of the Langum Prize for Historical Fiction and a New York Times bestseller, and Turn of the Century, a Times Notable Book and national bestseller. In addition, he is host and co-creator of the Peabody Award-winning public radio show Studio 360.
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 Kurt Andersen
- Image credits