Where is the line drawn and why? Is the New Deal FSA project a Body of Art? Documentation project only? Or both? You decide!

In doing my homework for my Photography Art History class, I always chose discussion questions that mean the most to me, since we are only to answer one. Often times I have a difficult time trying to decide which question to chose. I have two love affairs, history and photography, so combining them together you cans see that I am in Hog Heaven. Below is my response to the discussion question. Enjoy fellow #HistoryLovers and #PhotographyLovers. I will let you decided if this body of work should be regarded as a body of art, documentation project only, or both.

21. Explain how it came about that the F.S.A. images would be regarded as works of art

The United States Governments’ Farm Security Administration, sponsored this project through the New Deal Historical Section, under the direction of planner Rexford Guy Tugwell; using photographic documentation to record the government’s willingness and strides to help destitute depression farmers. The goal was to use the images to make visual impact statements as well as capture images of the social conditions of the time. The visionary for this project is credited to a former teacher at Columbia University, Roy E. Stryker; economics instructor. In the end, the New Deal Cabinet conceited, that the commanding role these images gifted in visual impact statements for capturing the social conditions were greatly understated.

Eleven photographers would come to work on this project (listed in order in which they were hired): Arthur Rothestein, Theo Jung, Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Carl Mydans, Russell Lee, Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, John Vachon, and John Collier. These eleven photographers all played a significant role, not only in producing images for this project, but also in molding the resulting images in the final project through conversations held between the group members. Although the New Deal Cabinet under estimated the photographers ability to produce images that breathed a humanistic social visual catalyst found in novels, theatrical productions and music of the time, these images are now regarded as a “national treasure” in the United States; which is why this project is regarded as a work of art.

A contributing factor that propelled this project into a body of work has partial thanks to project photographer Arthur Rothstein; a former student at Columbia University, responsible for setting up the files, darkroom, and recording all of the projects activities. During his assignments to the South and West of the drought-stricken regions during the Depression he produced one of his most infamous images, Dust Storm, Cimarron County, of a sun bleached steer skull. He photographed this skull in many different positions as an experiment which ensue conjured up a political controversy, that lead some to question the legitimacy of this project. Backed by his fellow photographer peers. it was concluded that it was the photographer’s choice in creative point of view, with regards to interpretation, of the literal truths. There were many challengers and critics such as fellow project photographer Walker Evans; who believed that the images should depict the entirety of the scene, and not be so abstract. It was this controversy that some deemed this project as a body of art, as much as documentation project.

**Side/personal note**
As a photojournalist myself, I tend to agree with the majority of photographers of this time; in that this is a body of art, as much as it is a documentation project. I feel that people try to put too clear of and concise labels onto things; that when something isn’t as clearly defined, or has the potential to fill multiple pots, they get a little disjointed and caught up in what the appropriate label should be.I myself love photojournalist art, in my opinion body’s of work can be artful as well as be documentation; not everything has to be square and lame compositional placed.Three of my all time inspiration images come to mind: Napalm girl, V/D Day Sailor Kiss, and Migrant Mother; all of which were clearly not contrived and posed, all of which are considered art worthy to many; including myself.

Dorothea Lange; Migrant Mother; FSA project.


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