July 19, 2013

The roots of American photojournalism are firmly planted in the images of many dedicated photographers, like Walker Evans, who helped shape the record our history with the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photography project. In 1935 the FSA hired photographers to document the Great Depression and the plight of those suffering from its effects. This campaign by the FSA left Americans with iconic images that float through our nation’s collective consciousness and a thirst for vernacular photography as made relevant by Walker Evans. Regarded by the Metropolitan Museum of Art as “the progenitor of the documentary tradition in American photography,” Walker Evans was instrumental in setting the stage for the future of journalism.

“Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife, 1936”
Photo by Walker Evans

Today, documentary photography is moving back towards the formal direction of these historically pertinent photographs. One example of such images can be seen on the website for Facing Change, a non-profit documentary organization. Founded in 2009, Facing Change: Documenting America (FCDA), is considered by the Library of Congress to be “a contemporary counterpart to the work done in the 1930s and 1940s by photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration.” The FCDA is a collective of photojournalists and writers seeking to highlight a variety of neglected and misunderstood issues plaguing Americans today. In their mission statement, the FCDA pays homage to their inspiration, the FSA photography project, as they embark on a modern version of historic preservation.

Photo©2011_Carlos Javier Ortiz
From “Migrant Workers in Illinois and North Carolina” Series

Covering topics ranging from the legalization of gay marriage and the economic crisis, to the plight of migrant workers, and disasters like Hurricane Sandy,  the FCDA is dedicated to making positive changes. Working with the Library of Congress, the FCDA promotes public interaction via an online forum as they document the impact of current issues on America. You can view photo stories and more information on the Facing Change website.

Photo©2011_Andrew Litchenstein
From “Landscapes of American History” Series

As we continue to advance in the field of photojournalism, it’s important to study our documentary lineage. In an article The New York Times published yesterday, writer Ken Johnson speaks of Evans’ lasting photographic impression on American history. Johnson writes, Evans was “seeking out the soul of America, and though his subjects have receded into the past, his images still exude a powerfully affecting pathos, an infectious longing for something spiritually real and true.”

“Church, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1936”
Photo by Walker Evans

In honor of the 75th anniversary of Evans’ 1938 solo show American Photographs, the Museum of Modern Art in New York will open today a retrospective exhibition of Walker Evans’ photographs. See more of Walker Evans’ images at the NYC MoMA exhibition Walker Evans American Photographs. The show is on view until January 26, 2014. 

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