Hard times: Images of the Great Depression still have the power to move and astonish
"I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished…" So declared Franklin D Roosevelt in March 1937. He wasn't the only one: during an ambitious photography project run by the US Farm Security Administration between 1935 and 1941, 12 photographers trained their lenses on America's rural communities, painfully capturing the poverty of the Great Depression.
In 1962, Edward Steichen, photographer and director at New York's Museum of Modern Art, selected more than 200 shots from the FSA archive for an exhibition entitled The Bitter Years. He arranged them in 15 themed sections, under headings such as 'Tractored Out', 'Field Workers' and 'Heroic Women', interspersed with text, including that Roosevelt quote and testimonies from those pictured.
The exhibition, frank and unflinching yet also deeply moving, was never catalogued; now a new book reproduces not only the photographs but also Steichen's careful sequencing.
The FSA project helped launch the careers of many photographers, most notably Dorothea Lange – 84 of the images were hers, reflecting her own, and Steichen's, interest in portraiture.
While The Bitter Years included haunting landscape shots of arid fields, lonely roads and makeshift living quarters, its most gut-wrenching are surely the intimate images of thin-limbed, wide-eyed and wary subjects.
'The Bitter Years' is published by Thames & Hudson, £38
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
- 2 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 3 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Lynda Bellingham dead: Loose Women presenter dies after battle with colon cancer
Breaking Bad season 6 is still not happening
Doctor Who, Flatline - review: Clara isn’t half bad as the Time Lord
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
X Factor 2014 results: Chloe Jasmine and Stephanie Nala sent home
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'