Monday, July 04, 2016

The Years of Bitterness and Pride (1930s Depression photos)

     Hiag Akmakjian. The Years of Bitterness and Pride (1975) A selection of Farm Security Administration photographs from 1935 to 1943. The Preface reminds us that the project to document the USA in photographs almost didn’t happen, and that it became one of most thorough and complete records of people and places ever undertaken. The photographers made over 250,000 pictures, all of them archived in Washington. A handful have become visual summaries of times and places that Americans that know of them hope will not be forgotten. But I suspect that we now have a couple of generations of Americans for whom the Depression is at best a remembered emotion passed on to them from elderly relatives, not an historical event.
     Yet anyone who sees these images will, I think, be reminded that economic dislocations engendered by laissez-faire capitalism have long-lasting effects on individuals and communities. I wonder what happened to these people who allowed themselves to be photographed. Some are defiant, some look beaten, some see hope around them. All look damaged in mind and spirit a well as in body. And yet the majority rebuilt their lives.
     There have been many collections of FSA images published. Look for them. They are fierce reminders that economic ideologies that mistake money for wealth and profit as a goal will inevitably hurt people. You can search the collection yourself here.
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