The Great Depression stayed by photography


COLUMBUS – “The Art of Humane Propaganda: Photographers of the Farm Security Administration During the Great Depression,” is a photographic documentary exhibit, showing some of the devastation created by the The Great Depression.

But it is also an exhibit of some of the masterpieces of 20th century photography taken in the service of the FSA.

The collection of photographs will be on exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art through Sept. 2.

The objective of the Farm Security Administration’s photographic project was to make the public aware of the deplorable conditions imposed by the Great Depression on rural areas and support progressive agricultural programs of the Roosevelt administration.

Visual record.

The works produced for the FSA by Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, among other equally notable photographers, established a compelling visual record of the late 1930s in America.

“The Art of Humane Propaganda,” organized by guest curator Robert W. Wagner, professor emeritus of photography, cinema and communication at Ohio State University, brings 44 vintage FSA prints on loan from The Ohio State University Libraries, together with earlier examples of social documentary photographs by American photographer Lewis Hine.

“The exhibition presents the opportunity for museum visitors to become acquainted with the important local collection of photographs at OSU,” said Catherine Evans, the museum’s curator of photography.

Hine’s work, on loan from the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, serves as a pre-history to the FSA work.

The inclusion of examples of a range of Hine’s projects underscores the familiarity and admiration that FSA’s photography director, Roy Stryker, had for Hine’s prolific documentary contributions

Teaching tool.

The FSA presented the photographs in this exhibition to OSU in the late 1930s for use as a teaching tool, primarily in agriculture classes.

Over time the way in which we view these pictures has changed dramatically, Evans said. They were originally seen as instructive yet anonymous visual aids in the classroom. But we have come to regard them as the work of important American photographers and as aesthetically important works of art.

Related programs at the museum during the exhibit will include an interactive program for those who remember the Depression and a lecture by guest curator Wagner.

Share memories.

“Between Generations,” a program for those who lived through the Depression to share their memories with a child or grandchild will be from 1-4 p.m. July 22.

Participants will be given the opportunity to view the photographs, and then to interview each other about life then and now.

Recorders and tapes will be provided to document the conversations.

They will also create a handmade book together to illustrate their memories. Registration fee is $5 per person, and early registration is advised.

Wagner will present a lecture on the importance of the photographic work represented in the exhibit in defining America’s perception of the period at 7 p.m. May 24.

Film clips and photographic works by such renowned documentarians as Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange, and Lewis Hine will provide the foundation for this lecture.

The lecture is free.

The Columbus Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and until 8:30 p.m. every Thursday. Suggested admission is $6 for adults and $4 for seniors and students 6 and older. It is free for Museum members.

For additional information, call the museum at 614-221-4848 or visit the museum Web site at


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