The Art of History: The Farm Security Administration


When the Farm Security Administration (FSA), part of the New Deal, began its photography program in 1935, the intent was not to create art, but to depict the challenges of rural poverty by "introducing America to Americans." Yet despite their historical significance and the propaganda-like nature of some of the images, most of the photographs that came out of the FSA's nine-year photography program are seen today as art. Since requests have been made for FSA photographers Dorothea Lange and Jack Delano, today's post will feature the FSA's three most famous photographers: Lange, Delano, and Walker Evans.

Jack Delano (1914-1997)

Delano was one of the FSA's most prolific photographers—at least 5,000 of his photographs have survived. But Delano was also a skilled musician (on the viola) and composer. Throughout his school years, he studied viola, composition, and solfeggio alongside graphic art and photography. During an FSA trip to Puerto Rico in 1941, he fell in love with the area and returned five years later to settle there. He then composed orchestral pieces for the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, ballets for Ballet Infantil de Gilda Navarra and Ballets de San Juan, and numerous other chamber, choral, and vocal pieces. He was also a producer and composer for films for the Community Division of the Department of Public Education. (Yesterday would have been his 98th birthday.)
Shown: An "open all night" gas station in Durham, North Carolina. (1940)

Walker Evans (1903-1975)

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Evans is probably the FSA photographer most recognized for his artistic ability. Several major museums have put on retrospectives and exhibitions of his work, including one exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art during his last year working for the FSA. The 1938 exhibition, "Walker Evans: American Photographs," was the first exhibition in the museum to be devoted to the work of a single photographer. Later that same year, he also began taking hidden camera photos on the New York subway. (The camera was hidden in his coat.) All of his work, with the exception of that done for the FSA, was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994. Fun fact: Evans got to know Ernest Hemingway while he was on a non-FSA assignment in Cuba in 1933.

Shown: Roadside stand near Birmingham, Alabama. (1936)

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)

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Lange may have the longest lasting legacy of the FSA photographers. She co-founded Aperture magazine, and the entire

Aperture Foundation

, in 1952. (Ansel Adams was another co-founder.) In 1914, Lange had been awarded the highly prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, but she gave it up to record the relocation of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Although she was supposedly on assignment for the civilian War Relocation Authority, the Army considered her photographs so critical that they impounded them.

Shown: Carrot pullers from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Mexico. Coachella Valley, California. (1937)

For larger versions, click on the images. Fans should check out the Smithsonian's interviews of Jack (and Irene) Delano, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange and the Library of Congress archives of the FSA photos taken by Delano, Evans, and Lange. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.