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The Contrast Between Wealth and Poverty in the Cities: A Photo Essay on the Great Depression


Great Depression Photo Essay Assignment




A photo essay is a series of photographs that tell a story or convey a message. Photo essays can be powerful tools to communicate complex ideas, emotions, and perspectives in a visual way. Photo essays can also be used to document historical events, social issues, or personal experiences.




great depression photo essay assignment



One of the most significant periods in American history that was captured by photo essays was the Great Depression. The Great Depression was a time of economic hardship and social turmoil that lasted from 1929 to 1939. It affected millions of Americans who lost their jobs, homes, farms, savings, and hopes. It also challenged the political system and tested the resilience of the nation.


During this time, many photographers took their cameras to document the impact of the Great Depression on people and society. They showed how ordinary people coped with adversity, how they fought for their rights, how they helped each other, and how they survived. They also showed how the government responded to the crisis with various relief programs and reforms. Their photographs not only recorded history, but also shaped it.


The New Deal and the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photography project




In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched a series of programs known as the New Deal to combat the effects of the Great Depression. The New Deal aimed to provide relief for the unemployed and poor, recovery for the economy and industry, and reform for the financial and agricultural sectors.


One of these programs was the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which was established in 1937 to help rural farmers who were struggling with low crop prices, high debts, and poor living conditions. The FSA provided loans, subsidies, resettlement camps, education, health care, and other services to farmers.


To justify the need for these programs, the FSA also hired a team of photographers to document the plight of rural America. The FSA photography project was led by Roy Stryker, who gave his photographers assignments, guidelines, and feedback. The FSA photographers traveled across the country and took thousands of pictures that portrayed the lives of farmers, migrants, workers, and families.


Some of the most famous FSA photographers were Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, Marion Post Wolcott, and Gordon Parks. Their works are considered to be some of the finest examples of documentary photography in history. They captured the dignity, suffering, strength, and diversity of the American people during the Great Depression.


The Dust Bowl and the Okies




One of the most devastating environmental disasters that occurred during the Great Depression was the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl was a period of severe drought and soil erosion that affected the Great Plains from 1931 to 1939. The Dust Bowl was caused by over-farming, over-grazing, and poor land management practices that stripped the land of its natural vegetation and topsoil.


As a result, the land became barren and unable to support crops or livestock. The wind blew away the loose soil and created huge dust storms that darkened the sky and buried homes, roads, and fields. The dust also caused health problems such as respiratory infections, eye irritation, and pneumonia.


Thousands of farmers and their families were forced to abandon their farms and seek refuge elsewhere. Many of them headed west to California, hoping to find work and land. They were called "Okies" because many of them came from Oklahoma, but they also came from other states such as Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri.


The FSA photographers followed the Okies on their journey and documented their hardships and struggles. They showed how they packed their belongings on old cars and trucks, how they camped along the roadsides or in makeshift tents, how they faced discrimination and hostility from the locals, how they worked in low-paying and harsh jobs such as picking cotton or fruit, and how they lived in overcrowded and unsanitary shacks or camps.


The urban poverty and social unrest




The Great Depression also hit the cities and industrial areas hard. Millions of people lost their jobs as factories closed down or reduced their production. Many people also lost their savings as banks failed or restricted withdrawals. Without income or security, many people faced unemployment, homelessness, hunger, and disease.


The FSA photographers also covered the urban poverty and social unrest that resulted from the economic crisis. They showed how people lined up for soup kitchens or breadlines, how they slept on park benches or in cardboard boxes, how they searched for jobs or relief checks, how they suffered from malnutrition or illness, and how they begged for charity or sold their belongings.


The FSA photographers also showed the contrast between wealth and poverty in the cities. They showed how some people still enjoyed luxury and leisure while others barely survived. They also showed how some people protested against the injustice and inequality that they faced. They showed how workers went on strike or organized unions, how farmers blocked roads or dumped milk, how veterans marched on Washington or occupied buildings, and how citizens rioted or looted stores.


Conclusion




The photographs taken by the FSA photographers during the Great Depression had a profound impact on American society. They helped raise awareness and empathy for the victims of the Great Depression among the public and the policymakers. They helped influence public opinion and policy making during the New Deal era. They helped preserve the history and legacy of the Great Depression for future generations.


The photographs also demonstrated the power and potential of photography as a medium of communication and expression. They showed how photography can capture reality in a vivid and compelling way. They showed how photography can convey complex ideas, emotions, and perspectives in a visual way. They showed how photography can document historical events, social issues, or personal experiences in a meaningful way.


FAQs




What are some of the most iconic photos of the Great Depression?




Some of the most iconic photos of the Great Depression are:


  • Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange: This photo shows a destitute mother with her three children in a migrant camp in California in 1936. The mother's expression of worry and despair reflects the plight of millions of Americans during the Great Depression.



  • American Gothic by Gordon Parks: This photo shows a black cleaning woman holding a broom and a mop in front of an American flag in Washington D.C. in 1942. The photo is a parody of Grant Wood's famous painting American Gothic, which depicts a white farmer and his daughter in front of their house. The photo contrasts the ideals of American democracy with the reality of racial discrimination.



  • Lunch Atop a Skyscraper by Charles C. Ebbets: This photo shows eleven construction workers eating lunch on a steel beam high above New York City in 1932. The photo captures the courage and optimism of the workers who built skyscrapers during the Great Depression.



Who was Dorothea Lange and what was her contribution to FSA photography?




Dorothea Lange was one of the most influential FSA photographers and photojournalists in American history. She was born in 1895 in Hoboken, New Jersey, and became interested in photography as a teenager. She moved to San Francisco in 1918 and opened a successful portrait studio, where she photographed many prominent figures of the time.


In 1933, Lange began to photograph the social conditions of the Great Depression on the streets of San Francisco. She was hired by the FSA in 1935 and traveled across the country with her husband Paul Taylor, an agricultural economist, to document the lives of rural Americans. She used her camera as a tool of social justice and human empathy, capturing the dignity and suffering of her subjects with compassion and respect.


Lange's photographs for the FSA were widely published and exhibited, and had a profound impact on public awareness and policy making. Her most famous photograph, Migrant Mother, became a symbol of the Great Depression and one of the most recognized images in history. Lange continued to work as a documentary photographer until her death in 1965, covering topics such as Japanese internment camps, Irish country life, and global poverty.


What was the Migrant Mother photo and why was it so influential?




The Migrant Mother photo was taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936 at a pea pickers' camp in Nipomo, California. It shows a woman named Florence Owens Thompson with three of her seven children. Thompson was a widow and a migrant worker who had traveled from Oklahoma to California in search of work and land. She had just sold her car tires to buy food for her family when Lange encountered her.


Lange took seven exposures of Thompson and her children, but the one that became famous was the fifth one, where Thompson looks into the distance with a worried expression, while two of her children lean on her shoulders and hide their faces. The third child is lying on her lap, covered by a blanket. The photo conveys a sense of maternal strength and despair, as well as the vulnerability and uncertainty of the migrant situation.


The photo was published in The San Francisco News on March 10, 1936, along with two other photos by Lange of the Nipomo camp. The article reported that about 2,500 migrant workers were starving there due to crop failure. The photo and the article sparked public outrage and sympathy, and prompted the government to send food and aid to the camp. The photo also became widely circulated and reproduced, becoming an icon of the Great Depression and a masterpiece of documentary photography.


How did FSA photography affect the development of documentary photography as a genre?




FSA photography was one of the first and most influential examples of documentary photography as a genre. Documentary photography is a type of photography that aims to record reality objectively and truthfully, often with a social or political purpose. Documentary photography can also be seen as a form of storytelling, where photographs are used to narrate a story or convey a message.


FSA photography pioneered many aspects of documentary photography, such as:


  • Using photography as a tool of social change and advocacy



  • Working for a government agency or an organization with a specific agenda



  • Following ethical guidelines and standards for accuracy and authenticity



  • Using captions, text, or audio to provide context and information



  • Creating photo essays or series that show different aspects or perspectives of a topic



  • Experimenting with different styles, techniques, and formats



  • Collaborating with other photographers, writers, editors, or researchers



What are some of the ethical issues involved in FSA photography?




FSA photography was not a neutral or objective representation of reality, but a selective and subjective one. The FSA photographers had to make various choices and judgments that influenced how they portrayed their subjects and their situations. Some of these choices and judgments involved ethical issues, such as:


  • The purpose and agenda of the FSA photography project: The FSA photographers were hired by the government to document the need for New Deal programs and to persuade the public and the Congress to support them. They were not independent journalists or artists, but employees of a political agency with a specific mission. Their photographs were not meant to be impartial or balanced, but to highlight the problems and solutions that the FSA advocated.



  • The relationship and responsibility of the photographers to their subjects: The FSA photographers often interacted with their subjects, asking them questions, gaining their trust, and directing them to pose or act in certain ways. They sometimes intervened in their subjects' lives, offering them help, advice, or money. They also sometimes exploited their subjects' vulnerability, ignorance, or desperation, taking advantage of their consent or lack thereof. They rarely informed their subjects of how their photographs would be used or distributed, or what consequences they might have for them.



  • The manipulation and alteration of the photographs: The FSA photographers sometimes manipulated or altered their photographs to enhance their impact or message. They did this by cropping, editing, retouching, enlarging, or captioning their images. They also did this by staging, rearranging, omitting, or adding elements to their scenes. They sometimes reused or recycled their photographs for different purposes or contexts.



How to create a photo essay




A photo essay is a creative and effective way to present a topic or a story using images. A photo essay can be either thematic or narrative, depending on whether you want to focus on a specific concept or idea, or tell a chronological or sequential story. A photo essay can also be a combination of both, where the images are connected by a common theme and a narrative thread.


To create a photo essay, you need to plan ahead, do some research, take good photos, and organize them in a meaningful way. Here are some steps to follow:


  • Choose a topic and an audience. Think of a topic that interests you and that you want to share with others. Consider who your audience is and what you want them to learn or feel from your photo essay. Choose a topic that is relevant, original, and accessible to your audience.



  • Do some research. Find out more about your topic and look for sources of information and inspiration. You can use books, articles, websites, documentaries, interviews, or personal observations. You can also look for examples of photo essays that have been done on similar topics to get some ideas.



  • Create an outline. Before you start taking photos, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to show and how you want to show it. Create an outline that includes your main point, your focus image, your establishing shot, your clincher, and other image details. A focus image is the most important or striking image in your photo essay. An establishing shot is an image that sets the scene or context for your story. A clincher is an image that concludes or summarizes your story.



  • Take your photos. Depending on your topic and your outline, you may need to take photos in different locations, times, or situations. You may also need to take photos of different people, objects, or events. Use a good camera and try different angles, perspectives, lighting, and compositions. Take more photos than you think you need and only use the best ones.



  • Organize your photos. Once you have your photos, you need to arrange them in a logical and coherent order. You can use a software program or an online tool to create a layout for your photo essay. You can also add captions, text, or audio to provide more information or context for your images.



  • Edit and polish your photo essay. Review your photo essay and make sure it conveys your message and your story effectively. Check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and clarity errors. You can also ask for feedback from others and make changes accordingly.



  • Publish or share your photo essay. Depending on your purpose and audience, you can choose different ways to publish or share your photo essay. You can print it out as a book or a magazine, post it online as a blog or a website, display it as a slideshow or a video, or present it as an exhibition or a performance.



How to create a photo essay on the Great Depression




Now that you know the basics of how to create a photo essay, you can apply them to your specific topic: the Great Depression. Here are some tips and examples to help you create a photo essay on this historical event:


  • Choose a theme and a narrative for your photo essay. You can focus on one aspect or perspective of the Great Depression, such as the FSA photography project, the Dust Bowl, or the urban poverty. You can also tell a chronological or sequential story of how the Great Depression unfolded and affected different people and places.



  • Do some research on your theme and narrative. Find out more about the historical facts, figures, and sources of the Great Depression. You can use books, articles, websites, documentaries, interviews, or personal accounts. You can also look for examples of photo essays that have been done on the Great Depression or similar topics to get some ideas.



  • Create an outline for your photo essay. Decide what your main point, your focus image, your establishing shot, your clincher, and other image details are. Think of how you want to introduce, develop, and conclude your story. Think of how you want to connect your images with a theme and a narrative.



  • Take or find your photos. Depending on your theme and narrative, you may need to take or find photos in different locations, times, or situations. You may also need to take or find photos of different people, objects, or events. You can use your own camera or a borrowed one to take photos. You can also use existing photos from archives, libraries, museums, or online sources. Make sure you have permission to use them and credit them properly.



  • Organize your photos. Arrange your photos in a logical and coherent order that follows your outline. Use a software program or an online tool to create a layout for your photo essay. Add captions, text, or audio to provide more information or context for your images.



  • Edit and polish your photo essay. Review your photo essay and make sure it conveys your message and your story effectively. Check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and clarity errors. Ask for feedback from others and make changes accordingly.



  • Publish or share your photo essay. Choose a suitable way to publish or share your photo essay with your intended audience. You can print it out as a book or a magazine, post it online as a blog or a website, display it as a slideshow or a video, or present it as an exhibition or a performance.



Here is an example of a possible photo essay on the Great Depression:


The Dust Bowl: A Photo Essay




The Dust Bowl was one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. It was caused by over-farming, over-grazing, and poor land management practices that stripped the land of its natural vegetation and topsoil. The wind blew away the loose soil and created huge dust storms that darkened the sky and buried homes, roads, and fields. The dust also caused health problems such as respiratory infections, eye irritation, and pneumonia.


The Dust Bowl affected millions of farmers and their families who lived in the Great Plains from 1931 to 1939. Many of them lost their crops, livestock, income, and property. Many of them also migrated westward to California and other states in search of work and land. They faced many hardships and struggles along the way.


This photo essay tells the story of the Dust Bowl through the images of FSA photographers who documented its impact on people and society.


The Focus Image




This image shows a massive dust stor


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