The Photographers

Jack Delano

Jack Delano was born Jack Ovcharov in Kiev, Ukraine on August 1, 1914. He emigrated to Philadelphia with his family in 1923. In 1932 he began his study of drawing and painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and in 1936 first took up photography during study in Europe. Delano was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 1946, and his work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; El Museo del Barrio, New York; and En Foco Gallery, Bronx, New York, among many other institutions.

Concerned with the human condition and committed to addressing social issues with his photography, Jack Delano was well matched to the Farm Security Administration. The FSA was established in 1935 as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and given the mission to support small farmers and restore land and communities damaged by the Depression. The photographers employed under the FSA (which also included Charlotte Brooks, Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, Gordon Parks, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, John Vachon, and Marion Post Wolcott) produced images that greatly impacted how both policy-makers and the general public understood the Depression.

Roy Stryker hired Delano as an FSA photographer in 1940, and Delano soon became known for his strong compositions and sensitivity to his subjects. Like other FSA photographers, Delano traveled throughout the United States documenting American culture and people while also completing specific assignments (one of his most famous involved the country’s train system). Max Killie next to photo of him in WWI, Heard, Co. was made in 1941, a pivotal year for Delano as he also made his first trip to Puerto Rico (where he would later spend decades working), ended his career with the FSA, and began his wartime service as a military photographer. In addition to photography, Delano composed music. He died in Puerto Rico in 1997.

Source: Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

Carl Mydans

Born in Medford, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, Carl Mydans attended Boston University, where he worked on the university’s newspaper as a student. Following his years as a student, he worked as a reporter at The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, and later he moved to New York, joining the staff of the trade newspaper American Banker. Initially working as a writer, Mydans’s talent with a camera gradually became apparent, and he began selling freelance images to newspapers and magazines.

In the midst of the Great Depression in 1935, Mydans accepted an invitation to join the staff of the Resettlement Administration (RA) as one of seventeen photographers, which also included Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Jack Delano, Gordon Parks, and Arthur Rothstein. The RA was created in 1935 to rehabilitate exhausted land, resettle struggling farmers, and build relief camps for migratory workers and refugees from the Dust Bowl. The photographic project’s purpose was to document the plight of the rural poor and compile visual evidence supporting the RA’s educational campaign to achieve its objectives. The RA was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and folded into the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937. Mydans’s work in the collection of the MoCP is representative of the roughly one year that Mydans worked for the RA, during which he photographed in the slums and surrounding areas of Washington, D.C.

In 1936, Mydans was hired by the recently launched Life magazine, joining the original staff photographers Alfred Eistenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, Thomas McAvoy, and Peter Stackpole. Mydans was a contributor to the weekly newsmagazine for all thirty-six years of its publication. He and his wife, Shelley Smith, a researcher-reporter for the magazine, traveled extensively in Europe and in Asia on assignment for the magazine and were active in covering the combat zones of World War II. In 1942 they were captured by the Japanese and spent two years as prisoners of war. They would later cover the Korean War, among many other events. After Life stopped being published as a weekly publication in 1972, Mydans worked for other publications, including Time and Smithsonian magazine. Over the course of his career as a photojournalist, some on Mydans’s best-known photos were of the bombing of Chongqing in China in 1941, General McArthur wading ashore in the Phillipines in 1945, and many photographs of the Kennedy family in the 1950s and 1960s.

(He died at the age of 97 in 2004)

Source: Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

Marion Post Wolcott

Marion Post was born in Montclair, N.J., in 1910, the daughter of wealthy parents. She attended boarding school and later taught children while studying early childhood education at the New School for Social Research and New York University. Her mother worked for Margaret Sanger, the famous women’s health advocate, and as a result of this relationship, both mother and daughter became part of a group of writers and artists in New York City.

Post travelled to Europe to study dance in Paris and later education in Vienna, where her sister Helena was studying photography. She met Trude Fleischmann, Helena’s teacher, who praised her work and encouraged her to become a photographer as well. In Vienna the sisters witnessed the rise of the Nazi party and worked to protect the children of persecuted socialist workers until the university closed in 1943 and they were forced to return to America.

Post continued her political activism and her study of photography in the states, and in 1938 she sent her portfolio to Stryker, who hired her to work for the FSA.

Post’s style was to use her camera to capture sociological aspects of her assigned subjects. She was best known for her documentation of the tobacco industry in the southeastern United States and photographed farm families, scenes of racial segregation, and the unique workings of tobacco auctions. In 1941 Post married Lee Wolcott, a federal agriculture official, and because of her desire to devote herself to family and her disillusionment with government relief programs, she resigned from the FSA.

Although Wolcott occasionally took photographs in later years, she never resumed full-time photography. She died in 1990.

Source: Indiana University: Celebrating New Deal Arts & Culture

Arthur Rothstein

While a student at Columbia University, Arthur Rothstein met Professors Guy Tugwell and Roy Stryker who went to Washington to work for FDR. In 1935, the Photo Unit of the Historical Section of the Resettlement Administration was created by Stryker to use photography to document and publicize the large-scale economic dislocations caused by the Great Depression and the widespread displacement and disruption of agricultural communities during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The Photo Unit also documented the progress of government programs designed to assist the displaced. In 1937, the RA became the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

Stryker initially hired Rothstein to design and construct a state of the art darkroom in Washington DC for his traveling photographers. Then, he purchased the photographic equipment. Once that was accomplished Arthur was sent into the field as a photojournalist on Wednesday, August 7, 1935, less than a month after his twentieth birthday. He boarded a train heading west. His first stop was a resettlement community, Cumberland Homesteads near Crossville, Tennessee. He made a short stop in Memphis. His next destination was the Dyess Colony, another resettlement project. From there he went to Arkansas where he went way up into the Ozark Mountains. Then, Arthur moved on to Mississippi; Vicksburg, Clarksville, Tupelo, Meridian and Hattiesburg. He took the train to Skyline Farms near Scottsboro, Alabama and he was in New Orleans, Louisiana on Labor Day of 1935. He took pictures on a visit to Wolf Creek Farms in Georgia and headed for Raleigh, North Carolina where he stopped at Penderlea Farms, also an RA project. He shot with his Leica and his Speed Graphic. Then he got back to Washington where he processed and printed the film. A month later, on October 23rd, Arthur Rothstein was on the road again. This next assignment began with a stop in Madison County in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, just 90 miles from Washington, DC, in an area that would soon become the Shenandoah National Park.

For more than five years he and other FSA photographers traveled the country on assignment for the U.S. government, documenting the plight of displaced farmers, other workers, their families and communities. Today, the public archive of FSA photographs maintained by the Library of Congress contains more than 10,000 photographs taken by Arthur Rothstein, the first photographer hired by the Resettlement Administration.

Rothstein also served as the director of photography for Look magazine until it stopped printing in 1971 and then for Parade magazine until his death in 1985.

Source: Arthur Rothstein Archive

John Vachon

John Vachon was born in 1914 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He graduated from St. Thomas College in 1934. While enrolled in graduate school at Catholic University he was looking for a job in Washington, D.C., when he heard of an opportunity with the Resettlement Administration.

He interviewed with Roy Stryker, who told him the job was temporary and consisted of the “rather dull work” of copying photo captions onto the back of prints done by Stryker’s photographers. Vachon began studying their photographs as he worked and in 1937, with much encouragement and assistance from Stryker and his group, he began taking his own photographs around the Potomac River area using a borrowed Leica. In 1938, Stryker gave him his first solo assignment in Nebraska, and until 1941 Vachon both photographed and continued to classify the FSA archive.

Vachon’s hallmark became the use of natural light and black-and-white film, though many of his later and more well-known works, including “African American Boy,” were done in color.

Vachon continued working with the FSA until it was disbanded, and after he finished his service in World War II he worked with Stryker at Standard Oil. He later became a photographer for both Life and Look magazines. After Look ceased publication in 1971, he became a freelance photographer and completed a visiting lectureship at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

He died in 1975 at the age of 60.

Source: Source: Indiana University: Celebrating New Deal Arts & Culture

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