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valerie macewan photo

-Valerie MacEwan

“No good Southern fiction, poetry or essay is complete without a dead mule.”

Celebrate the Mule! Celebrate the Jackalope, a Southern friend to all. Kinda’ like a bullfrog, it gets into your memory and burrrreeeeps its way out.

Black and white photos: Library of Congress online collection.

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives Fall 2023 issues ::

The photographs of the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. This U.S. government photography project was headed for most of its existence by Roy E. Stryker, formerly an economics instructor at Columbia University, and employed such photographers as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Jack Delano, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, John Vachon, and Carl Mydans. The project initially documented cash loans made to individual farmers by the Resettlement Administration and the construction of planned suburban communities. The second stage focused on the lives of sharecroppers in the South and migratory agricultural workers in the midwestern and western states. As the scope of the project expanded, the photographers turned to recording both rural and urban conditions throughout the United States as well as mobilization efforts for World War II. 

The collection encompasses the images made by photographers working in Stryker’s unit as it existed in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (1935-1937), the Farm Security Administration (1937-1942), and the Office of War Information (1942-1944). The collection also includes photographs acquired from other governmental and non-governmental sources, including the News Bureau at the Offices of Emergency Management (OEM), various branches of the military, and industrial corporations. In total, the collection consists of about 175,000 black-and-white film negatives and transparencies, 1,610 color transparencies, and around 107,000 black-and-white photographic prints, most of which were made from the negatives and transparencies. The collection was transferred to the Library of Congress in 1944. 

How the Photographs Were Produced

Although photographers in Roy Stryker’s unit were sent out on assignments throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, the unit’s main office was in Washington, D.C. The office distributed photographic equipment and film, drew up budgets, allocated travel funds, hired staff, developed, printed, and numbered most negatives, reviewed developed film, edited photographers’ captions written in the field, and maintained files of negatives, prints, and captions. The main office also distributed images to newspapers, magazines, and book publishers, and supplied photographs to exhibitions. 

Staff photographers were given specific subjects and/or geographic areas to cover. These field assignments often lasted several months. Before beginning their assignments, photographers read relevant reports, local newspapers, and books in order to become familiar with their subject. A basic shooting script or outline was often prepared. Photographers were encouraged to record anything that might shed additional light on the topic that they were photographing, and they received training in making personal contacts and interviewing people. 

Most of the time the photographers mailed their exposed negatives to the photographic unit’s lab in Washington for developing, numbering and printing. [View images of the photo lab.] In the initial years of the project Stryker was almost exclusively responsible for reviewing contact prints made from the negatives and selecting images that he considered suitable for printing. Over time, however, photographers played a greater role in picture selection. Rejected images were classified as “killed.” In earlier phases of the project a hole was sometimes punched through the “killed” negatives; later, this practice was abandoned. The rejected images are usually near duplicates and alternate views of a printed negative. 

After Stryker reviewed and selected images, the negatives and contact prints (or “first prints”) were returned to the photographers for captioning. The resulting captions were edited at the photographic unit’s headquarters. The selected images were then printed and mounted, the captions were applied to the photo mounts, and the photographs were filed in the photographic unit’s file.