The Information Division was responsible for standard public relations work; supplying materials to the mass media and preparing visual displays for public educational programs (Carlebach and Provenzo 20). At the least, the photographs that Roy Stryker's photographers took in the field had to meet this institutional need. Just how the balance shifted from this purely bureaucratic purpose towards the loftier goal of "introducing America to Americans" (Stryker and Wood 9) is not entirely clear. Partly, it may have grown out the tension between the photographers' desires for artistic freedom and the institution's need for uncontroversial and effective uses of their funds. Amongst the photographers' letters to Stryker we find many references to these issues; Marion Post Wolcott goes as far as to refer at one point to her bureaucratic obligation as "FSA cheesecake" (Hendrickson 154). Stryker, commenting on this tension, noted that "most of what the photographers had to do to stay on the payroll was routine stuff showing what a good job the agencies were doing out in the field." Beyond that, they were free to spend "a day here, a day there, to get what history has proved to be the guts of the project" (Stryker and Wood 14). What we can be sure of is that the larger documentary goal was not a part of the initial institutional vision.



Juliet Gorman, May 2001


In order to understand in part how photography came to dominate the PR materials that the Information Division produced, it is important to think about what visual media meant in the 1930s. Keep in mind, however, that there is only one more page left in this discussion...