Thursday, June 21, 2012

Farm Security Administration Photos at the New York Public Library

Lee Russell

Here is a fascinating story about the Farm Security Administration, Roy Stryker, the Library of Congress, and the New York Public Library. I came across this story on the New York Times site called Lens. 

During the 30s and 40s Roy Stryker, who founded the FSA during the Great Depression, wanted photographers to document the farm communities and the rural poor for future generations. He sent photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Russell Lee to travel the United States and create this visual history. Photographers sent their photos back to Stryker and he forwarded them to Romana Javitz who was then head of the New York Public Library's Picture Collection. The collection he forwarded to her had about 41,000 prints in its archive.

Stryker was nervous about sending them to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., he was afraid these photographs would get lost among everything else being handled there so that is how they ended up getting sent to Javitz in NYC. Then in the mid 1940s, the Library of Congress established the Farm Security/Administration Office of War Information Photograph Collections. This collection's archive had about 175,000 negatives and 1,600 color transparencies. The Washington archive became the authoritative source for the images.

Yes, the images in New York were forgotten about and anyway it was assumed that all the image sin NY were in Washington. The incredible part is, the prints in the New York Public Library were being lent out to the public. Anyone with a NY Public library card could check out a Dorothea Lange photo put a piece of tape on it and stick it to their wall. So some were damaged, and yes, some were never returned.

It was only in 2005 that Stryker's donated prints were cataloged and it was then discovered that some of the photos in the NY collection were not among the negatives at the Library of Congress. The New York Public Library digitized more than 1,000 images that aren't in the LC online catalog and they created a special NYPL site for these photos. In addition they created another site containing the records, no images for all 41,000 FSA photos in their collection.

You can read and see more at the Lens site.

Below is a small selection of books from the photography collection in the Arts Division, there are many more on this subject and these photographers.

Killed: Rejected Images of the Farm Security Administration

The Likes of Us: Photography and the Farm Security Administration

FSA: The American Vision 

Dust Bowl Descent 

Migrant Mother: How a Photograph Defined the Great Depression

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits

The Photographs of Russell Lee

Russell Lee Photographs: Images from the Russell Lee Photograph Collection at the Center for American History 

Walker Evans: Decade by Decade

Walker Evans: Photographer of America

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