"Showing America to Americans"-An Exhibit
I consider the photographic project within the historical moment in which it was created with a specific focus on the influence of dominant constructions of race, motherhood, and poverty.
The impetus for this research stems from a 1935 photograph by Dorothea Lange of a Mexican-American mother and child which is strikingly similar to her iconic 1936 “Migrant Mother.” In stark contrast to the icon, the image to which I refer as the “1935 Migrant Mother” was rendered invisible within the national imaginary. These two images serve as an entry point through which to consider the entire archive in terms of those images of rural mothers and motherhood that were popularly circulated and those images that were left unseen, unprinted, or unmade. I ask how popular readings of FSA photographs as objective or “true” impacted those which circulated and those excluded from the dominant frame.
While historians and artists have examined the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) Photographic Collection as a broad and deep account of Depression era US experience, and as a valuable collection of early documentary photography. During the Depression, FSA photographs had everyday life implications for those experiencing rural poverty; the images were made and circulated in order to garner support for rural rehabilitation programs. Simultaneously, the images were circulated as visual representations of “Americans” and the rural US citizen. Problematically, the images were circulated within a modern framework of straight photography in connection to a discourse of objectivity. I consider the photographic project within the historical moment in which it was created with a specific focus on the influence of dominant constructions of race, motherhood, and poverty.