Review of Picturing a Nation: The Great Depression’s Finest Photographers Introduce America to Itself

Picturing a Nation: The Great Depression’s Finest Photographers Introduce America to Itself
by Martin W. Sandler
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    176 pp.    g
10/21    978-1-5362-1525-0    $24.99

Sandler (The Dust Bowl Through the Lens, rev. 1/10; Imprisoned, rev. 7/13) shows how a band of intrepid photographers set out to picture America during the Great Depression and ended up establishing documentary photography as “a major creative field of art.” Franklin Roosevelt created the Resettlement Administration, later renamed the Farm Security Administration (FSA), to support families about to lose their farms. Within the FSA was the Historical Section, staffed by out-of-work photographers sent out to document families’ struggles. Headed by Roy Stryker, the FSA attracted such now-legendary artists as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Russell Lee, and Ben Shahn. Sandler organizes his chronicle by region — the South, ­Midwest, West, and Northeast — to ­survey the two-hundred-thousand ­pictures compiled from all across America and together providing a visual record of a “certain way of life just before it ceased to exist.” Beautifully reproduced images in both ­black-and-white and color, with informative captions and lively quotations accompanying many of them, augment Sandler’s authoritative and elegantly written text. Add this fine volume to other superb accounts of the Great Depression: Jerry Stanley’s Children of the Dust Bowl (1992), Elizabeth Partridge’s Restless Spirit (rev. 3/99), Russell Freedman’s Children of the Great Depression (rev. 1/06). Back matter includes profiles of the key figures who contributed to “what is widely regarded as the largest, most captivating and compassionate photographic ­collection ever compiled,” extensive source notes, a bibliography, ­photography credits, and an index (unseen).

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches eighth grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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