November 3, 2014
Walker Evans’s photos and 170K more digitized by the Yale Project
by Kirsten Reach
This is huge: the biggest photo collection in American history is now fully searchable and available as an interactive map through Photogrammar, a digital project from Yale University. Aside from Dorthea Lange‘s most famous works, and any photos you know about of your great-uncle, you can view the photographs of the great Walker Evans, whose photos illustrated James Agee‘s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Cotton Tenants.
In 1935, the largest photography project in America was launched by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Office of War Information (OWI). As you have probably read, the purpose was to document rural and urban conditions of the everyday life of Americans. It was headed mainly by Roy E. Stryker, who was an economist as well as a photographer himself.
A little more about the life of the collection from Photogrammar:
Of the 170,000 photographs in the collection, approximately 88,000 were printed and placed in the filing cabinets of the FSA-OWI. 77,000 photographs were printed by Stryker’s division and 11,000 prints collected from other sources. Paul Vanderbilt joined the FSA-OWI in 1942 and created a new organizing system for the collection. He developed the Lot Number system and Classification Tags system, which users can search the collection.
The collection is now not one, but six collections, and is maintained by the Library of Congress.
The interactive map divides 90,000 photos by county, and you can narrow the search by the year. If you have time for a thirty-minute presentation on this project, Lauren Tilton, a Yale Student, put together an impressive one here, or check out “Documenting America, 1935-1943”.
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.