Colour photographs from the FSA and OWI

by Mark Pinder

Photo: Jack Delano/FSA/OWI

Wow, these are amazing! I’d always been aware of the black and white archive of the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information held by the American Library of Congress, but I had not been aware of the colour collection.

Photo: Alfred T. Palmer/FSA/OWI

For those of you who don’t know about it, the FSA was born in 1935 from the restructuring of the Resettlement Administration which was founded in 1933 as a component of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal‘ programme to get America working again during the depression that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The RA/RSA’s remit was to combat the American rural poverty that John Steinbeck wrote of in such classic novels as The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men.

An integral part of the FSA was the photography programme which ran between 1935 and 1944 under the directorship of economist and photographer Roy Stryker, which employed some prominent names in the history of American Documentary photography, including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, (who ultimately went on to direct classic ‘blaxploitation’ movie ‘Shaft‘), and Ben Shahn.

The work that these photographers produced for the FSA is Government property, and held by the library of Congress, and as such is also deemed public property, and over the last 20 years or so, a large part of this collection has been digitised to a very high standard and placed in the public realm for download. I actually have some very high quality prints of work by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn around the walls of my home printed from some of the available high resolution files.

Photo: Alfred T. Palmer/FSA/OWI

Some of the work in the colour archive is absolutely amazing. Technically, very sophisticated in lighting and technique and surprisingly modern. If I saw some of this work in a current business magazine, (apart from the clothing), I would not necessarily know that this work dated back to the 30’s and forties.

Apart from the FSA archive, the LOC archive also includes some incredible gems, such as the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk and Roger Fenton’s work from The Crimea.

You could lose yourself for days in this archive!!