Exhibition: Dignity vs. Despair
Wednesday, Sep 13, 2017 at 10:00am
The Farm Security Administration, created in response to the Great Depression, provided loans to farmers, facilitated the removal of families from economically challenged cities for resettlement in rural communities, and formed camps for migrant workers.
“The themes of adversity and resilience in these photographs are some of the same themes running through contemporary life,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “With the downturn of the economy in 2008, many people found themselves facing increased hardship. These photographs help us better understand not only the strength of the human spirit in times of suffering, but also the remarkable power of social and documentary photography to shape public opinion and influence government decisions.”
In 1935, Roy Stryker, an economist from Colombia University, was given the difficult task of determining how to prepare pictorial documentation of rural areas and problems and present them to the American government and people. He assembled an initial team of five photographers, including Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Arthur Rothstein. Marion Post Wolcott and Peter Sekaer worked for other government agencies.
“Many people dismiss these images as sad photographs, but I’ve never seen them that way,” said Jane L. Aspinwall, Associate Curator, Photography. “Roy Stryker didn’t see them that way either. He recognized in the photos a quiet human dignity, something that, as he described it, ‘transcends misery’ and reflects our ‘ability to endure.’”
The exhibition of 64 photographs is arranged thematically and geographically into three sections. The first section includes Lange’s images of urban hardship in San Francisco in 1933-38. The next section focuses on the South, an area hard hit by the Depression. The final section documents the plight of the migrant worker, most often located in California.
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