Sunday, September 23, 2012


I live in middle America. The most boring place ever. When I was a child nothing, nothing fun ever seemed to happen. I was always waiting for something exciting. Waiting, watching, waiting, listening. The only excitement I could seem to find was listening to people talk. I may have listened too much. I had a wild imagination, you know.

Anyway, one thing I found especially interesting was when I heard about the WPA days. There were several projects throughout rural Missouri funded by President Roosevelt's New Deal with the purpose of job creation. Although the New Deal was widely disputed then, and is still debated, some of these structures still exist today.

There were several different organizations after the New Deal plan was put into place. WPA is just the name I have found to be familiar. Whenever I see a structure obviously built decades ago, I still can't help but wonder. When was this built and for what purpose?

Somewhere along the way, I began to search this mysterious WPA project. Who could resist a mystery, you know. Anyway, I found out more than I needed to know. When I found a picture of a woman, I had always seen. I just didn't know where the picture had come from.

This picture of a migrant farm worker with her children is an iconic piece of history. Although, I had seen the photograph before I hadn't known the purpose behind the picture until I began researching President Roosevelt's controversial New Deal along with the public works projects.

My mystery had begun with architecture. I had intended to research the structures built for the benefit of the economy, designed to give those in need employment. Opposed to deployment offered by the military, the public works were to give men and women work. Although, the paycheck was government funded nonetheless the money fed children who might not have otherwise been fed.

Take this picture of the migrant farm worker for example. The child she is holding, an infant child, is this child properly fed? The other two children, to whom do they belong too? I do not happen to know the answers to this question. I could do research. I could possibly find these answers. However, upon first glance, what I do see is a mother. A migrant farm worker during the days of economical hardships and I cannot help wonder. What if? What if this woman had employment? What if the father of these children had employment? What if?

You see, this picture's not taken in the state of Missouri. The picture was taken in California by Dorothea Lange in 1936. She, Dorothea, was a woman photographer employed by the FSA, a project also funded through the New Deal. A team project several others participated with to display photographic evidence of the impact the Great Depression had on farmers, families, the unemployed. 

When President Roosevelt's administration created public assistance, the government was widely criticized. However, then the technology we have today wasn't available. Those who were criticizing the government's efforts were sometimes simply uneducated to the living conditions some were forced to endure. The poor, the hungry, children without food, without shelter, who had been living in tents, they weren't shown in the media. These images they weren't a prevalent part of society. The poor often went ignored and the public readily embraced their ignorance. 

The FSA, the Farm Securities Administration, the photographers, the artists who participated traveled throughout impoverish cities and towns across the United States taking pictures. They used visual media to document what others refused to see. Dorthea Lange isn't the only photographer from this era who produced some lasting works.

However, I admire this woman. Whenever I see the black and white photography she had taken in the thirties, I always think about how she was a woman. A woman photographer in the nineteen thirties. She traveled alone. She sometimes even slept underneath her automobile. She defied societal stipulations. She gave life to a part of history with unforgettable pictures. 

I know about the WPA, FSA, President Roosevelt, The New Deal, the refusal of a society unwilling to change, and these unforgettable iconic pictures of a migrant farm worker taken by a woman photographer. Why? I will tell you why. I did not learn these things from a lesson I learned is school. I know about them because I bothered to look into a mystery. Architecture the mystery behind job creation. 

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