These Vivid American Documents

Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and FSA Photobooks

  • Author(s): Millichap, Joseph R.
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2024-09-25
  • Status: Not Yet Published - Will Back Order
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The story behind the most iconic American photobooks of the twentieth century.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) funded a now-famous photography project to document and highlight American rural life and its economic challenges. In time, the project launched a genre of works that incorporated photographic evidence and artistic documentation of rural poverty, highlighting the struggles and resilience of the American people during this period. Nearly a century later, these photographs have become largely synonymous with the Great Depression.

In These Vivid American Documents, Joseph R. Millichap presents an illuminating examination of four photobooks born of this FSA project: Archibald MacLeish and Dorothea Lange’s Land of the Free; Walker Evans and Lincoln Kirstein’s American Photographs; Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor’s An American Exodus; and James Agee and Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Millichap includes in his analysis a curated selection of thirty-two photographs from these four photobooks, showcasing the realities of the social, individual, political, artistic, and economic aspects of that time.

Through Millichap’s thorough and insightful study, readers will gain a deeper understanding of the significant cultural and historical impact of this photographic project. Examining what are now historical American icons, like Walker Evans’s portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs and Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Millichap leans into the intersections, tensions, and meanings that this particular era and medium encapsulate. His close comparison of the documentary and artistic purposes of the photobooks both analyzes how they balance text and imagery and offers a thoughtful study of the photographers and writers who produced them. These Vivid American Documents is an illuminating volume for scholars and general readers alike.

JOSEPH R. MILLICHAP is emeritus professor of English at Western Kentucky University. He is the author of The Language of Vision: Photography and Southern Literature in the 1930s and After; A Backward Glance: The Southern Renascence, the Autobiographical Epic, and the Classical Legacy; and Robert Penn Warren, Shadowy Autobiography, and Other Makers of American Literature.