The FSA photographs have also to be placed as visual media in their historical context: the 1930s, a time when the printed word had ceased to hold the same persuasive force for Americans and the visual image came into its dominancy (Stott, Susman). Analysts of consumer trends suggest that during this period of great economic decline, when expensive hobbies must have seemed like frivolous impossibilities, more and more Americans took up photography (Daniel et al viii). Photo magazines grew into staggering popularity in the 1930s; Life, started by Henry Luce in 1936, was followed by Look, Click, Focus, Foto, Photo, Picture and See. "In 1939 Life boasted it was 'the greatest success in publishing history' and attributed its appeal to its 'new picture-and-word editorial technique' which 'makes the truth about the world we live in infinitely more exciting, more easily absorbed, more alive than it ever has been made before'" (Stott 130).

All in all, the nature of cultural communication changed during the 1930s, and the FSA photographs took an ascendant place in the new order. The terms of persuasion had changed, and as a cultural program wedded to a political platform, the FSA had in its methods of communication and public relations a powerful ideological tool. As Warren Susman says of the 1930s, "the shift to a culture of sight and sound was of profound importance; it increased our self-awareness as a culture; it helped create unity of response and action not previously possible; it made us more susceptible than ever to those who would mold culture and thought" (Culture as History159-160).




Juliet Gorman, May 2001


Did you familiarize yourself with the history of the FSA yet? If you have, you should make sure you didn't miss the brief biography of Marion Post Wolcott, so you can better contextualize her work for the FSA.

When you are done working through the material on the history of the FSA, critical perspectives to bring to FSA photography, and some background on Marion Post Wolcott's life, you should move on to reflections about narrative in FSA photography.