Walker Evans – FSA research

The FSA (Farm Security Administration) was set up in 1935 in order to take care of the rural depression in America. They tried to improve farming because of the poor living conditions of farmers; many who had these poor living conditions found it difficult to make a living from their land that wasn’t yielding much success. The FSA brought a programme to purchase this land from farmers and relocate them to land that would benifit them more for their profession. Many photographers including Walker Evans were employed to depict the era through bleak images that would depict the poor land as inefficient, encouraging people to force change and make the FSA’s policies justified. Consequently, the FSA photographers are responsible for engineering the social response on the great depression. Evans was asked to carry out a research survey on the rural life of America, making it more a project of political persuasion than of true history, but the images taken document the era eloquently.

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We had a task to bring in a photo-book that related to our research topic. There aren’t photographers in abundance that have done projects around agriculture, especially in modern day, so I sought inspiration from FSA photographers. My favourite photographer from this period was Walker Evans  because of the iconic image of Allie Mae Burroughs which became a symbol of the great depression. In a way, Walker Evans does relate to my project because his images depict a difficult time in agriculture because of the poor land and inefficiencies of farming. My project comments on similar issues; in modern times farming has to compete against supermarkets and the motives of the consumer, so there is difficult living conditions. I can take Evan’s images as a starting point of my study because of its similarities, and its motives in trying to make a change to rural life. However, instead of showing how bad it is for farmers attacking as a catalysis for change, I want to show how creative and skilled farmers are to discard stereotypes through modern advertisements. This way it will also catalyse a change; getting people to buy more directly from the farmers so they can enjoy the benefits their skills deserve.

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The photo-book I took out the library for the discussion was ‘Walker Evans – The Getty Museum Collection’; which has a lot of different project inside, 1,200 prints in all from New York, Cuba, Alabama, Faulkner Country and Florida. The project that I’m most interested in was his photographs from Alabama because of their connection to the FSA. What I like about the images is that they choose people and objects that are important, and the expressions and surroundings tell their own stories eloquently. The grey coming through the whites is very symbolic of the depression for me because it shows the poor living conditions that people were living in the 1930’s – 40’s. They are high in contrast which brings through these grey tones into the black and whites, forming another layer of depression to the images. You also get a sense of normality for these people, that they have come to accept what its like to be a farmer and live like this, which really helps the FSA case. A word that best describes Evan’s photography is melancholy because of the situation of the farmers and the deep thought and contemplation in their faces. They are really expertly captured and are accurately symbolic of the era, regardless of the motives, they show what it was like to live in such conditions.

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Before I was struggling to think of how I could fill my photo-work-book with portraits of farmers because of travel and permission issues to shoot at endless farms who’ve been creative and adjusted to the times. After looking into the work of Walker Evans I found that he photographs the buildings and different artefacts from the farms to symbolise the depression. He made each object seem as bleak as possible to help the FSA’s cause. I can make each object seem positive and skilled so people appreciate the work they do more than previously. I want the portrait of the farmer to be the main focus of the study and be prominent in my work book, but the artefacts will help separate the portraits up and give more context to those reading.

Overall, Walker Evans and the FSA have helped my study incredibly. They’ve opened my mind up to the context of agriculture and given me more ideas of how to tackle assignment (with artefacts). Furthermore, the historical information has helped me construct more of a story to the Assignment 2 presentation. I can comment on the FSA and how agriculture, although important to the lives of many in the 19th and 20th Centuries were depended on food production, there were hurdles in front of them even then, so surely the issue of supermarkets is something that can be tackled. Anyway, researching with the Walker Evans book has definitely help me considerably.

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