Arthur Rothstein, Boulder Dam, Nevada, 1940

This week’s selection is a collection of ’30s and ’40s photographs from the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information, hosted by the Library of Congress. Many New Deal agencies sponsored public art, heretofore restricted to statues in front of public buildings: although these agencies are not as well-known as the Works Progress Administration, many of the photographers involved (Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks) went on to be quite famous. The images are indexed by photographer, subject, and geographic area and are available in professional-quality TIFFs: they offer compelling portraits of rural America in the teeth of the Depression and the war.

But lest you think that the federally-funded art of the Roosevelt Administration was just a Cyclopean eye surveying its domain, I invite you to consider the “Columbia River Ballads”, songs from Woody Guthrie commissioned by the new Bonneville Power Administration (to the tune of $266.66). The most famous of these is “Roll On, Columbia“, but I’ve never seen it mentioned that this is actually one of the worst pieces of propaganda ever made: Woody compares the construction of the dams to the Indian wars, which as a Cherokee he would have a nuanced position on and which (considering the submerging of the native community Celilo Falls by Bonneville Dam) were not totally past.

(Thanks to Dave for the photo link)

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