Images of the Great Depression in Ohio: Documentary Portraits Revisited

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Although Black Tuesday, October 1929, is used to mark the start of the Great Depression, the stock market crash on that day was merely the largest headline-grabbing catastrophe in an era marked by smaller, more personal financial tragedies.  By 1933 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president, unemployment in Ohio had risen over 37 percent, and more than one million families were dependent on public or private charity.

Promising a New Deal for Americans, President Roosevelt gathered advisors in Washington, D.C. to create programs to combat the economic catastrophe that had befallen the country.

Our understanding of the Great Depression and the New Deal is enhanced by large collections of images created by government photographers, most working for the Farm Security Administration. Federal administrators understood the power of photographs to inspire political will and sway public opinion.  As a tool to record the lives and experiences of many Americans, documentary photography reached a zenith during the Depression.

In 2009, the Ohio Humanities Council commissioned a rephotographic survey, revisiting many of the sites photographed during the 1930s.  While the FSA collection, housed at the Library of Congress, is the largest and most recognized archive of images, other collections add to the historical record.  This exhibit includes images by the famous and the unknown, complimented by the work of contemporary photographers who revisited the places which form our understanding of the Great Depression in Ohio.