Struggles of the Great Depression are given a new close-up look

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An amazing selection of black and white photographs have a great impact in a Warwickshire gallery, far away from their source.

Introducing America to Americans – The Farm Security Administration Project, 1935-1944 is the title of the exhibition at The White Room Gallery in Leamington Spa.

The photos may appear familiar if you visited The Human Document exhibition at the Mead Gallery at the University of Warwick back in autumn 2016 – they were previously part of that bigger exhibition.

However here in the smaller space it’s easier to focus on the detail.
In 1935, The Farm Security Administration Programme commissioned some photographers to document the plight of rural workers in America to enlighten the public and politicians about the living conditions of the working classes during the Great Depression. They brought an awareness of poverty to a much larger audience.

Amongst the photographers featured is Dorothea Lange, and her photograph of the 32-year-old ‘migrant mother’ of seven children, Florence Thompson,(above) with a baby and two young children in a pea picking camp, became a famous image, her tough life leaving her looking much older than her age.

Lange’s other photographs here include many people with the pain of poverty on their faces; a sharecropping family on the move, mum in a bonnet clutching her baby, a sad little boy and anguished father. There are black cotton pickers, who worked from 6am-7pm for $1.

Other photographers involved include Arthur Rothstein, whose works include School at Alako, where youngsters sit around a heater while a woman writes on the blackboard; learning still trying to take place amongst the struggle to survive. Russell Lee also photographed a mother teaching her children numbers to help them back to a better life. Lee’s photograph of a former slave woman pictured in 1941 is also shocking, a reminder that slavery was not so far into the past.

John Vachon’s pictures show the sad furniture of evicted share croppers sitting by the roadside.

Families have a whole street of furniture lined up one side of a roadside stream they cross with planks, a tragic place to have come to a stop. Amongst it all, children create their own playground from an old wagon wheel placed on something to become a merry go round.

There is just one of every image on sale at this moving and fascinating exhibition of silver gelatin prints, which is on until November 17.

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