Yale Launches an Archive of 170,000 Photographs Documenting the Great Depression

dorothea langeDuring the Great Depression, The Farm Security Administration—Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) hired photographers to travel across America to document the poverty that gripped the nation, hoping to build support for New Deal programs being championed by F.D.R.’s administration.

Legendary photographers like Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Arthur Rothstein took part in what amounted to the largest photography project ever sponsored by the federal government. All told, 170,000 photographs were taken, then catalogued back in Washington DC. The Library of Congress became their eventual resting place.

walker evans

We first mentioned this historic project back in 2012, when the New York Public Library put a relatively small sampling of these images online. But today we have bigger news.

Yale University has launched Photogrammar, a sophisticated web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing these 170,000 historic photographs.

arthur rothstein

The Photogrammar platform gives you the ability to search through the images by photographer. Do a search for Dorothea Lange’s photographs, and you get over 3200 images, including the now iconic photograph at the bottom of this post.

Photogrammar also offers a handy interactive map that lets you gather geographical information about 90,000 photographs in the collection.

And then there’s a section called Photogrammar Labs where innovative visualization techniques and data experiments will gradually shed new light on the image archive.

According to Yale, the Photogrammar project was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Directed by Laura Wexler, the project was undertaken by Yale’’s Public Humanities Program and its Photographic Memory Workshop. You can learn more about the genesis of the project and its technical challenges here.

rothstein 3
Top image: A migrant agricultural worker in Marysville migrant camp, trying to figure out his year’s earnings. Taken in California in 1935 by Dorothea Lange.

Second image: Allie Mae Burroughs, wife of cotton sharecropper. Photo taken in Hale County, Alabama in 1935 by Walker Evans.

Third image: Wife and children of sharecropper in Washington County, Arkansas. By Arthur Rothstein. 1935.

Fourth image: Wife of Negro sharecropper, Lee County, Mississippi. Again taken by Arthur Rothstein in 1935.

Bottom image: Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Taken by Dorothea Lange in Nipomo, California, 1936.

lange bottom

h/t @pbkauf

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by | Permalink | Comments (7) |

  • Rei Almeida

    Wonderful insight into the great deppression BUT: “Wife of negro sharecropper”…seriously? Is that how people should be described in 2014? Even if the picture dates back to 1935. We needn’t use that terminoligy.

  • Kev

    It’s an accurate and non-offensive description. Depression is spelled with one “P” .

  • MRadzikowo

    I think that might simply be the original given title of the photograph, from the photographer himself, hence the datedness of the description. Offensive to modern sensibilities, yes, but nevertheless an inseparable part of the historical record that formed those sensibilities.

  • Jeff Barker

    Negro simply means black, It’s not a put down. These folks have been referred to as Negros, Blacks, and now African-Americans. I do not refer to myself as an English-American. I was born here as were most of them. We are all Americans. A little hyper-sensitive aren’t we? This term, I’m sure as someone said below that it was how the picture was described back in the 1930’s.

  • open literature

    These are probably original titles for the photos that the photographers labeled the photos as. It should be “ok” for NPR to report history as it was recalled by the people who recorded. Lets not mute the voice of history to make it more palatable for those who can’t understand the road that brought us here.

  • Frank Capolla

    The distance between Negro and Nigger is vast.

  • Sarah

    Illustrates lack of family planning and contraceptive services available to women and men, back in the day, this problem of too many babies and poverty persists to this day. It is a perineal problem of the culture wars.
    Thanks to Yale for posting the documentary photos.