Photogrammar

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Words by Billie Jenkins Images courtesy of United State’s Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information

Everyone born after 1989 will remember the curriculum required venture you take around year eight into the grim, dust shrew images of America’s pre-WWII depression era. There was truly striking, and powerful imagery caught between 1935 and 1945, buried in the boring legal arguments for why rolling out electricity to rural areas was a good thing, and how hungry people got when there was no Dunkin Donuts down the round and things don’t grow on bad farmland and especially not if you can’t afford land, equipment or labour to reap a harvest even if you wanted to. Yale University are currently undertaking the huge task of creating an online public platform of America’s Depression Era photography. Newly launched Photogrammar; brings the iconic images out of their Library of Congress home and into the living rooms of academics and artists alike.

The archetypal image of the era, Dorethea Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother features, as will 170,000 by the time the project is complete. The 90,000 images which have already been uploaded can be searched in an exciting variety of ways, artist, period, subject and colour, with the really exciting feature taking the form of an intricate map that collects images together into counties and towns – it’s a stunning feat of archiving. Looking more like the archetypal, overtly 2004 type journal portals you use at uni, the website is lacking in attention grabbing highlights, yet the content is outstanding, and the gems behind the conservative design are rich and abundant. Portraits show troubles lined in aged faces, there is a stillness in many of the images that are revealing of a time when many could not work, or worked little, examples of the loss of energy that comes with national poverty and restricted opportunity. Overall the new database is an incredible contribution to both historians and photographers alike, an expanse of social documentation and an eye into a time that should not be forgotten, and we look forward to seeing it it grow.

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