Photography Helped End The Depression

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(FDR signing a bill, Library of Congress)

The Great Depression of the 1930s was something we can't even fathom today. We've had big recessions in the past twenty years, but nothing that comes close to the Depression. Whole communities were decimated. Imagine what happened in Detroit ten years ago... but to the whole country. People in rural areas were hit the hardest and for many living in the city, it was hard to imagine people who had it worse than them. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) came up with a plan to get America back on track, a series of programs he called the NEW DEAL. But these programs were going to be expensive and to many people in Washington, the Depression wasn't as bad people were making it out to be. This is in an era before the internet, before cable news and television. If it wasn't on the front page of a paper, people didn't know about it. So, FDR hired a group of photographers to travel around the country and document how dire the situation truly was for some people. 

The images that came back painted an America that was struggling to stay alive, a forgotten America that needed help. Photographs can change a perspective instantly and these forever changed the world's perspective about what was going on in American during that moment in history. 

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'Fleeing a Dust Storm,' by Arthur Rothstein. (Credit: FSA/The Library of Congress)

Columbia University president Roy Stryker was put in charge of the photograph division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) by Rex Tugwell and Tugwell told Stryker to go out to rural communities and: "Show the city people what it's like to live on the farm"

Migrant Mother,' by Dorothea Lange. (Credit: FSAThe Library of Congress)  

Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans joined the FSA and took some of the most memorable photos in American History. People didn't know how bad the disaster of the Dust Bowl had become. With drought and no dryland farming, thousands of acres of land became a dusty wasteland. It was now very clear that America was in trouble. 

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(FSA exhibit photo by Library of Congress)

Those bleak images kickstarted Roosevelt's New Deal programs and helped get us back on our feet again. Photography has a beautiful way of showing you exactly what someone else is going through. Of bringing out human emotion in the most devastating way that can make you sympathize with a total stranger. 

Head on over to History to read more about the photography of the Great Depression in a fabulous article by Annette McDermott