The Likes of Us:

Photography and the Farm Security Administration

An essential visual record of American life from the late 1920s to the early 1940s – photographs from the Library of Congress’ Farm Security Administration archive. This collection offers a rare opportunity not only to see historic images but also to understand the working of one of the government’s most original and creative pre-war initiatives.

Guided by master photo editor Roy Stryker, the FSA archive includes the work of dozens of photographers, from acknowledged giants such as Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, and Dorothea Lange to Marion Post Wolcott and Russell Lee, whose names and work may be less familiar. Stryker’s approach was a mix of structure and improvisation. He sent his artists across the country to shoot for a few weeks, mostly in small towns and rural areas. They worked from what Stryker called shooting scripts – laundry lists of possible subjects and situations – but were always free to explore their own perspectives on a locale, its inhabitants, and their activities.

This book collects work from nine of these trips – Evans in Louisana and Alabama, Shahn in West Virginia, Lange in California, and others – uniting them with Stryker’s shooting scripts, letters, and other relevant archival documents. What emerges, beyond the images themselves, is a complex and vital overview of the FSA at work and how the work evolved and matured under Stryker’s guidance. The book concludes with photographs of New Orleans, the only city photographed in depth by the FSA artists.

The Likes of Us includes 175 photographs, reproduced in duotone and printed from the original negatives at the Library of Congress.

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Peter Bacon Hales is the author of several seminal works on the role of images and landscape in the development of American identity.