“We could picture the frontier which has unalterably molded the American character and make frontier life vivid and understandable.”—Russell Lee
“It’s hard to think of any photographer for whom a more plausible claim can be made that he recorded the entire life of the United States (at least, for people in the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution) at a particular historical moment—what Toqueville did as a social observer, or Dos Passos as a novelist, or John Gunther as a journalist.”—Nicholas Lemann on Russell Lee
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.
Russell Lee was born in 1903 in Ottawa, Illinois and went to the Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana for high school. He earned a degree in chemical engineering, became a painter and photographer and joined the FSA in 1936. Lee served in the Air Transport Command (ATC), during World War II. In 1947 Lee moved to Austin, Texas and continued photography, becoming the first instructor of photography at the University of Texas in 1965. He died in 1986.
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.
Nicholas Berthelot Lemann is the Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism and Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999, and is the author of Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War (2006).
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