“The photographs in the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. This U.S. government photography project was headed for most of its existence by Roy E. Stryker, who guided the effort in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (1935-1937), the Farm Security Administration (1937-1942), and the Office of War Information (1942-1944). The collection also includes photographs acquired from other governmental and non-governmental sources, including the News Bureau at the Offices of Emergency Management (OEM), various branches of the military, and industrial corporations.”
These photographs were originally intended to document the need for agricultural assistance and to record how the FSA addressed that need. However, the scope of the collection far exceeded these parameters and the collection encompasses pictures that depict everyday life of Americans, the effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, the migration West or to industrial cities of displaced people, and America’s mobilization for World War II. Represented in the collection are works of well-known photographers of the period, including Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Jack Delano, and Esther Bubley.
The images from Black & White negatives have been digitized and can be viewed at the Library of Congress site. A different page provides access to the approximately 1600 color photographs.
Not all of the images were printed, but even so the number of printed images became difficult to manage. The archivist Paul Vanderbilt was hired to arrange them and, recognizing that researchers would approach the collection with different needs, he devised two organizational schemes. He first organized sets of prints into “stories,” generally consisting of images with the same subject matter or from a specific geographic region. These were called LOTs (examples of which can be found in Documenting America: Photographers on Assignment.) The LOTs were microfilmed by the Library of Congress.
The LOTs were then dismantled and the collection was reorganized geographically, and then according to subject classification numbers. The images online can be browsed through a subject index.
This organization scheme is also reflected in the microfiche collection of the printed photographs, called America 1935-1946: the photographs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Security Administration, and the U.S. Office of War Information. The Library’s copy of this collection is housed in the Newspapers & Microforms Library, located in 40 Doe Library.
Since the unprinted photographs did not have this organizational scheme applied to them, they are not as easily accessible through the online catalog search. After conducting a search, go to the description for any FSA/OWI image and select the “Browse neighboring items by call number” link. The Library of Congress continues its efforts to add metadata to these records so they will increasingly be easier to locate.