Documentary Photography in American Social Welfare History
The solidarity of documentary photographers was cornerstone to revealing America's deepening economic inequality during the Great Depression. Collective research manifested itself visually through various socially conscious magazines and organizations. The accumulated impact of these efforts inspired American's support of the New Deal Programs under Franklin Roosevelt.
Photography was an effective tool used to provide audiences with a fuller understanding of social issues, such as child labor and poverty. Photographs are, by nature, an accurate representation of reality. They are advantageous because they show, rather than tell.
Photography is much more straightforward, communicative means than written or verbal discourse. It has the ability to directly connect the suffering of the lower economic classes in America with the wealthier economic classes. Photographs are used under these circumstances to elicit emotion from the viewer and to inspire compassion.
The first publication to promote a national dialogue using visual evidence to represent the harsh realities of social life was Survey Graphic. Additionly, this journal was the first non-governmental entity to publish the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographs.
The FSA originated from the Information Division (ID). The Information Division was a government organization meant to produce irrefutable proof of the work that the Resettlement Administration (RA) was conducting under the New Deal programs. The RA was responsible for relocating poor families into communities where citizens would have their basic needs met when the 'invisible hand' of the economy had failed them. The ID hired photographers such as Roy Stryker to document the sociological impact of government policy on families and communities suffering under the bleak economic conditions. The RA was transformed into the FSA due to public backlash arising from the public when they learned of government funds being allocated for social work.
The FSA was reorganized to document the social impact of the Great Depression. Stryker hired a small group of accomplished photographers with the common goal of alleviating poverty. Survey Graphic became key to educating the public about the effectiveness of New Deal projects such as the FSA. They distributed photographs that challenged the public's perception of the social well-being in the United States.
The visual & sociological approach that was tackled in New Deal programs could be considered propaganda. Documentary photography provided visual evidence for social issues while gaining the trust of the public. Revolution.