Wattis Institute

More American Photographs

04 Oct - 17 Dec 2011

© Hank Willis Thomas
Lageisha, 2007
Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
4 October – 17 December, 2011

As the United States slowly emerges from its most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression, the CCA Wattis Institute will reexamine the well-known photography program of the Farm Security Administration, 1935-44, which included artists such as Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange and Marion Post Wolcott. For More American Photographs, twelve contemporary photographers will be commissioned to travel the United States, documenting its land and people. The resulting images will be presented in an exhibition at the Wattis Institute, alongside a number of the original images by the FSA photographers.

Artists include:

Walead Beshty, Larry Clark, Roe Ethridge, Katy Grannan, William E. Jones, Sharon Lockhart, Catherine Opie, Martha Rosler, Collier Schorr, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth,
Hank Willis Thomas, Esther Bubley, Sheldon Dick, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange,
Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Marion Post Wolcott, Louise Rosskam, Ben Shahn

The Farm Security Administration was implemented as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal Program, which sought to create relief, recovery, and reform after the devastating years of the Great Depression. Over a period of almost nine years, headed by the director of the Historical Section, Roy Stryker, the Farm Security Administration employed a number of photographers, who were tasked with bringing to light the “third of a nation” that President Roosevelt defined as “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”

Stryker meticulously prepared his photographers with exhaustive shooting scripts, which listed all the subjects of which he wanted photographs for his famous ‘File’ - ‘chicken dinners’, ‘18th Amendment’, ‘Corner drug store’ - notes that led to the thorough and engaging documentation of American culture and habits. Eighty years on, many of the 250,000 FSA images produced have endured and become iconic. Constituting a visual record of American life in the 1930s and 40s, the work of the FSA photo program introduced a never-before-seen style of photographic realism that would change the aesthetic of documentary photography forever.

More American Photographs will feature a number of original FSA photographs together with the new commissions. Given the inflections of the twenty-first century, including environmental disasters, factory-ghost towns, the collapse of the housing boom, the lack of economic mobility, and the increasing disparity between the rich and poor, this photographic project hopes to update Stryker’s file, showing how some parts of America have floundered while others have flourished.

Tags: Walead Beshty, Larry Clark, Roe Ethridge, Walker Evans, Katy Grannan, William E. Jones, Dorothea Lange, Sharon Lockhart, Catherine Opie, Gordon Parks, Martha Rosler, Collier Schorr, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, Hank Willis Thomas