Cataloging the Photographs
The Times of Sorrow and Hope on-line catalog of Pennsylvania photographs taken by the photographers assigned to the Resettlement Administration (ra, 1935–37), the Farm Security Administration (fsa, 1937–42), the Office of War Information (owi, 1942–43), and related governmental and nongovernmental bodies provides a comprehensive inventory of all the photographs taken in Pennsylvania during those years. (There are some photographs dated before 1935 and some dated after 1943.) When this project began, the Library of Congress—the main depository of the negatives and prints of the photographs—indicated that more than 112,000 images were available digitally on its website. Its fsa-owi collection includes photographs taken throughout the country, not just those from Pennsylvania. The Library of Congress now indicates that there are 160,000 photographs available on its website from a total of 164,000 images in the fsa-owi collection. The collection, then, is still very much in flux.
This sense of flux, however, is not new: for many years, the vast fsa-owi collection has presented challenges to catalogers and researchers alike. When the prints and negatives from the collection were deposited at the Library of Congress in 1944, researchers could only gain access to the images by visiting the Reading Room of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. Roy Stryker, head of the fsa-owi photographic sections, hired Paul Vanderbilt in 1943 to bring some organization to the thousands of prints. Vanderbilt created two major files. First, he arranged the photographs by assignments and called them "lots." These were transferred to 109 reels of microfilm in the 1940s, providing researchers outside the Library of Congress access to about 77,000 of the images. This resource, however, was not well known, and even today very few libraries hold copies of it. Vanderbilt then took the photographs and devised a new subject system, arranging the photographs by subject and by broad geographical area. Prints from the original negatives were mounted on cardboard. Caption information accompanied each item, identifying the photographer, place, date, title, and Library of Congress number. (The Library of Congress number evolved from the numbering system assigned to each photographer as he or she worked in the field.) These mounted prints were placed according to Vanderbilt's subject arrangement in vertical file drawers in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room. From 1978 to 1979, the publisher Chadwyck-Healey transferred the photographs as they appeared in the vertical file drawers to microfiche, a project that reproduced 87,000 photographs on 1,572 fiche. Of this number, 434 fiche contain photographs from the Northeast region, which includes Pennsylvania and twelve other states.
Microfiche, microfilm, and now the Internet have certainly made primary source information more readily available over the years. In addition to the fiche and microfilm editions of the photographs and their on-line counterparts, the written records of the fsa-owi are now available on microfilm as well. These records contain many of the caption lists compiled by the photographers themselves—lists that describe the photographs and indicate which images should be included in the official file and which should not. The photographs not used were designated as "killed" in the caption lists. These so-called killed photographs were not available in the fiche or microfilm editions of the fsa-owi collection, but as the negatives were never destroyed, digital images of them now appear on the Library of Congress website (and for the most part, they are classified as "untitled"). In the present on-line catalog of Pennsylvania photographs, an attempt has been made to bring together the titled photographs and their equivalent untitled or killed images. Appropriate notes are provided when necessary.
The Times of Sorrow and Hope on-line catalog represents photographs taken by close to forty photographers in nearly two hundred Pennsylvania towns, villages, and cities and at other landmarks. Approximately 6,000 Pennsylvania photographs have so far been identified; as additional information becomes available, it will be added to the catalog. The on-line catalog is largely arranged by photographer and place. Images without attribution and photographs by other governmental agencies and organizations appear at the end of the catalog in a section entitled "Other and Unidentified." There are also five guides to the on-line catalog that index the photographs by photographer, place, date, subjects, and personal names.
Indeed, the captions accompanying the photographs mention quite a few personal names. (Many more photographs taken in various villages, towns, and cities in Pennsylvania do not identify the people in the photographs by personal names.) One wonders how many Pennsylvanians realize that these photographs recorded the presence of their relatives—some of whom lived during the Civil War. The "Personal Names" index attempts to locate these people in the on-line catalog.
A typical citation under each photographer lists the place, title, and date of the photograph, followed by sources for the photograph. If a digital image exists on the Library of Congress website, two access points for that on-line collection are given. For example, a photograph in the on-line catalog with the access numbers fsa 8d32915 (digital identification number) or LC-USW3-037187-E (class number) can be located through the "Searching Numbers" section of the Library of Congress website. (See the website address below.) If the photograph had a title, the access point designations are given first, followed by untitled or killed variants, if available, with their access point designations. Other search capabilities on the Library of Congress website include "Searching All Text in the Catalog Records," "Searching Subjects and Formats," "Searching Creators and Other Associated Names," and "Searching Titles." Each of these search capabilities is accompanied by an example of how to do that particular search. The website also explains how to order prints of the photographs from the Library of Congress.
After the Library of Congress information, the Times of Sorrow and Hope on-line catalog provides other locations for the images, including fiche and microfilm editions, the New York Public Library collection, and the like, including reproductions in printed books. (In many cases, the photograph titles used in books do not match titles on the Library of Congress website or in the fiche or microfilm editions, and the notes discuss such discrepancies.) When digital images are not available on the Library of Congress website but may be available from other sources, this is also indicated. For instance, Chadwyck-Healey put the Roy Stryker Papers from the University of Louisville—including duplicate fsa-owi photographs in his private collection—on microfilm. The Pennsylvania photographs from that set are also available through the University of Louisville website. Stryker also gave some 40,000 duplicate prints to Romana Javitz, the first head of the Picture Collection at the New York Public Library, and these are located in the Research Library's Photography Collection. (In fact, Javitz occasionally lent photographs back to Stryker as he attempted to fill gaps in the subject areas of the fsa's collection.) Ben Shahn's photographs from this period are on deposit at the Fogg Museum at Harvard University as well as the Library of Congress, and his photographs are available on the Fogg Museum website. And the Metropolitan Museum of Art houses the Walker Evans Archive, including many of the photographs he took in Pennsylvania. Virtually all of these photographs are also available on the Library of Congress website. Information about these resources can be found in the on-line catalog entries.
The on-line catalog of Pennsylvania photographs was compiled in conjunction with the publication of Times of Sorrow and Hope and is available through the Pennsylvania State University Libraries website. Questions about the catalog can be addressed to Allen Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources for Photographs
- The Library of Congress website contains thousands of fsa-owi photographs taken in Pennsylvania as well as in other states.
- Search through the Library of Congress fsa-owi collection of black-and-white images
- Search the collection of color photographs
- Access is also available through the American Memory project of the Library of Congress
- Photographs by Ben Shahn are available through the "Ben Shahn at Harvard" website sponsored by the Harvard University Art Museums
- Photographs in the Roy Stryker Papers at the University of Louisville
Works Cited in Catalog Entries
Bendavid-Val, Leah. Propaganda and Dreams: Photographing the 1930s in the USSR and the U.S. New York: Edition Stemmle, 1999.
Berger, Maurice. fsa: The Illiterate Eye: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration. Catalog of an exhibition held at Hunter College Art Gallery, New York, November 26, 1985–January 10, 1986. New York: Hunter College Art Gallery, 1985.
Daniel, Peter, et al. Official Images: New Deal Photography. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987.
Evans, Walker. American Photographs. With an essay by Lincoln Kirstein. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1988.
—. Walker Evans at Work: 745 Photographs Together with Documents Selected from Letters, Memoranda, Interviews, Notes. With an essay by Jerry L. Thompson. New York: Harper and Row, 1982.
—. Walker Evans, First and Last. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.
—. Walker Evans: Photographs for the Farm Security Administration, 1935–1938: A Catalog of Photographic Prints Available from the Farm Security Administration Collection in the Library of Congress. With an introduction by Jerald C. Maddox. New York: Da Capo Press, 1973.
Fisher, Andrea. Let Us Now Praise Famous Women: Women Photographers for the U.S. Government, 1935–1944. London: Pandora, 1987.
Fleischhauer, Carl, and Beverly W. Brannan, eds. Documenting America, 1935–1943. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.
Hambourg, Maria Morris, Jeff L. Rosenheim, Douglas Eklund, and Mia Fineman. Walker Evans. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Princeton University Press, 2000.
Hurley, F. Jack. Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972.
Just Before the War: Urban America from 1935 to 1941 as Seen by Photographers of the Farm Security Administration. With an introduction by Thomas H. Garver and prefatory notes by Arthur Rothstein, John Vachon, and Roy Stryker. Catalog of an exhibition held at the Newport Harbor [Calif.] Art Museum, September 30–November 10, 1968, and the Library of Congress, February 14–March 30, 1969. New York: October House, 1968.
MacLeish, Archibald. Land of the Free. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1938.
Papageorge, Tod. Walker Evans and Robert Frank: An Essay on Influence. Catalog of an exhibition held at the Yale University Art Gallery, January 21–March 15, 1981. [New Haven]: Yale University Art Gallery, 1981.
People and Places of America: Farm Security Administration Photography of the 1930s. An exhibition organized by Richard Kubiak and held at the Santa Barbara [Calif.] Museum of Art, October 15–November 20, 1977.
Pratt, Davis, ed. The Photographic Eye of Ben Shahn. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975.
Rothstein, Arthur. The Depression Years as Photographed by Arthur Rothstein. New York: Dover, 1978.
Stryker, Roy Emerson, and Nancy Wood. In This Proud Land: America, 1935–1943, as Seen in the fsa Photographs. New York: Galahad Books, 1973.
U.S. Camera Annual. 1939.
Walker Evans. With an introduction by John Szarkowski. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1971.
Weiss, Margaret R., ed. Ben Shahn, Photographer: An Album from the Thirties. New York: Da Capo Press, 1973.
The Years of Bitterness and Pride: Farm Security Administration, fsa Photographs, 1935–1943. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.
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