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06-09-2012, 11:50 PM #1
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Never-before-seen pictures of destitute Americans during the Great Depression
And you thought it was bad now... Never-before-seen pictures capture everyday life of destitute Americans during the Great Depression
By Snejana Farberov
PUBLISHED: 21:38 EST, 8 June 2012 | UPDATED: 00:25 EST, 9 June 2012
Since the onset of the recession in 2007, pundits have compared the crisis to the Great Depression of the 1930s - but this week's release of 1,000 photographs from that bygone era serves as a reminder of how truly harsh that period was.
All of the black-and-white photos that were made available online by the New York Public Library were taken in the 1930s and 1940s under the auspices of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) – an agency created in 1935 as part of the New Deal policy to combat rural poverty.
The New York Times has reported that Roy Stryker, founder of the FSA’s photography project, was determined to compile a visual encyclopaedia of Depression-era U.S. and preserve it for future generations.
Downtrodden: Children of migrant fruit worker in Berrien County, Michigan
Homeless: Squatters camping on a highway near Bakersfield, California, in 1935
Hard-knock life: A California fruit 'tramp' was photographed with his family in a migrant camp in Marysville in 1935
So, while photographers like Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Russell Lee crisscrossed the country, Mr Stryker was sending boxes of prints to Ramona Javitz, the director of the New York Public Library Picture Collection, to make sure there was a repository other than the National Archives.
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‘I think he had to hedge his bets,’ said Beverly Brannan, a curator at the Library of Congress. ‘It makes sense that he would send them to Ramona Javitz, so there would at least be a body of them accessible in New York City until he got assurance that they would be kept together in Washington, DC.’
In the mid-1940s, the Library of Congress Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection was assembled, comprising 175,000 negatives and 1,600 color transparencies. It quickly became the authoritative source for Mr Stryker’s projects.
Destitute: Children sitting on the steps of a dilapidated house in Michigan in June of 1937
Backbreaking work: Many farmers who lost their land in the crisis were forced to become sharecroppers to eke out a meager living
But the 41,000 prints that Mr Stryker had shipped to the New York Public Library were largely forgotten. It was assumed that all the images in the New York collection were also in Washington.
Many of the prints were in the public lending library until the late 1950s, meaning that anyone with a library card could check out an original photograph.
None of the prints were catalogued until Stephen Pinson, a photography curator, came to the library in 2005. He hired two experts who discovered that some 1,000 photos in the New York collection did not have duplicates in Washington.
Since then, the New York Public Library has not only digitized more than 1,000 Depression-era images that do not appear in the Library of Congress online catalog, it has also made them available online.
Documented: The photographs were taken by the Farm Security Administration that was combating rural poverty
Quality control: Department of Agriculture officials testing meats at Beltsville, Maryland, in 1935
‘There are a lot of good images in the FSA that people don’t know because the same ones get reproduced over and over again,’ Mr Pinson told the Times.
Many of the photographs feature scenes from the lives of everyday people whose world had been turned upside-down by the Great Depression.
The Depression got under way on October 29, 1929 – a date better known as ‘Black Tuesday’ - when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted almost 23 per cent, dragging down both and domestic and global economy to disastrous effect.
Bleak: Dust bowl refugees photographed along a highway near Bakersfield, California, in 1935
Crisis: In 1932, the unemployment rate was at 24.9 per cent, and millions of people were homeless and living in shantytowns
By 1932 the national unemployment rate had soared past 20 per cent, and millions of men and women were homeless, forced to live on the street and forage for scraps in garbage cans.
As a result of widespread bank failures, many people lost their jobs and homes, and were forced to move to makeshift camps and shantytowns.
Down-and-out: Mother and father and several children of a family of nine living in open field in rough board covering built on old Ford chassis on U.S. Route 70, between Bruceton and Camden, Tennessee
Bygone era: A family of eight living in a four-bedroom home in El Monte, California, paying $16.20 rent a month
Scores of farmers lost their land after being unable to pay back their loans and ended up as share croppers, working other people’s plots just to eke out a living.
While President Barack Obama has often been criticized for his handling of the economy and the unemployment crisis, which continues to threaten his re-election prospects, the situation is far less bleak that the one President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced when he was elected in 1932.
Jobless: At the height of the Great Depression, as many as 15 million Americans were unemployed
At the time, the national unemployment number was 24.9 per cent, and 15million workers had no jobs. For comparison, the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labor show that 8.2 per cent of Americans are unemployed.
Yet, the historical perspective has done little to improve Obama’s chances in November, especially after it was announced last week that for the first time since June of 2011, the unemployment number went up from 8.0 per cent the month before.
Wayward: Migrant family in Kern County, California, in 1936
Hovels: Houses of African-Americans in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1936
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