DOI link for O
DOI link for O
Lorentz documented the effects of federal agricultural policy on farming communities. The FSA’s purview quickly grew to include industrial workers and minority communities as well. When Congress cut the FSA budget in the summer of 1942, however, Stryker, who was intensely protective of his project, began to arrange for his photographers to do contract work for the Office of the Coordinator of Information and later its successor, the OWI. As preparation for war began, the FSA photographers recorded the effects of these preparations on the same communities it had already been photographing. One important new assignment, for instance, was the documenting of the internment of Japanese Americans, particularly the FSA’s arrangements for the maintenance of properties owned by interned farmers. Because Stryker was never able to secure civil
service status for the FSA photographers and thus exempt them from the military draft, some were either drafted or voluntarily joined the military. Russell Lee, for example, became a photographer for the Air Transport Command, and Arthur Rothstein joined the Signal Corps. Other photographers moved to the OWI with Stryker and accepted new assignments that extended their earlier documentary work. Charged with collecting images of hard working, thriving, minority communities, John Collier Jr. was sent to Rhode Island to record Portuguese fisherman. On a subsequent assignment, Collier studied FSA projects in Taos, New Mexico, where, on the side, he photographed the local Pueblo Indians. Dorothea Lange was sent to San Francisco to capture the everyday lives of Italian Americans and Hispanics during the War. Collaborating with non-OWI-affiliated Ansel Adams, Lange sought to expose the discrimination against women and minorities entering the newly expanded workforce. Another OWI photographer, Gordon Parks, was sent to cover the African American pilots of the 332nd Fighter Squadron. Other photographers who moved from the FSA to the OWI include Marjory Collins, Jack Delano, Esther Bubley, and John Vachon. The documentary photography work that the
OWI initially commissioned quickly stirred ideologically-charged scrutiny. Many photographers complained of restricted freedom in the field, timeconsuming paperwork, and the misuse of their material in government publications. Gordon Parks’s celebration of African American fighter pilots and several other OWI projects had alerted Congress to the power of the OWI to influence public opinion. On the whole, the increasing tendency of the OWI to release only positive images of the War and wartime America worried opponents of Franklin
Roosevelt’s administration. As a result, during the 1943 budget hearings, the House of Representatives voted to dismantle the Domestic Operations Branch of the OWI. Although the Senate returned some financial support and limited opportunities remained for photographers in the Overseas Operations Branch, Stryker decided to leave the OWI and permanently preserve the file of photographs he had worked so hard to build. Going over the heads of his direct superiors, who
wanted the collection broken up and redistributed, Stryker arranged with Archibald MacLeish for the photographs to be stored at the Library of Congress after the War. The collection was merged with the OWI’s News Bureau and remained at the disposal of the OWI for the rest of the War. But Stryker also arranged for the OWI to continue employing art historian/archivist Paul Vanderbilt, who Stryker had hired in 1942 to undertake the daunting task of re-organizing the file by subject. Vanderbilt protected the integrity of the file and eventually moved with the collection to the Library of Congress. There he continued to oversee the FSA-OWI collection as head of the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division. After Congress enervated the OWI’s Domestic
Operations Branch, the OWI assumed a less direct role in the production of art and entertainment. The OWI’s Bureau of Motion Pictures, for instance, curtailed its active and far-reaching control over the production of films, limiting itself to evaluating pre-production scripts for Hollywood. U.S. intelligence agencies (continued after theWar by the Central Intelligence Agency) and the State Department eventually gave up the direct production of propaganda in favor of funding the display and circulation of American art by private institutions. The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA)— where the administration contained many ex-intelligence officers including Nelson Rockefellerassumed the most prominent role. During the War, MoMA had fulfilled 38 contracts for the Library of Congress, the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, and the OWI. After the War,MoMA collaborated with the CIA to circulate Abstract Expressionist painting as a symbol of American creative and individual freedom. Under the new direction of former head of the U.S. Navy’s photographic division, Edward Steichen, MoMA’s Department of Photography assumed a slightly more overt political role and staged liberal, anticommunist shows like Korea: The Impact of War in Photographs (1951) and the blockbuster Family of Man (1955). Yet the FSA-OWI photographers were only occasionally included in MoMA shows.