Images of the Great Depression in Ohio: Documentary Portraits Revisited

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Roy Stryker, head of the Farm Security Administration's information unit sent his photographers into the field with detailed lists of images to capture.  "Because of the importance of the Small Town in American rural life, every Farm Security Administration photographer carries a permanent small-town shooting script.  Whether he goes on assignment to cover projects in Ohio or migrants in Texas ... the Small Town is a perennial rather than a special assignment."

Each of the FSA photographers on assignment in Ohio recorded scenes of the state's  small towns and villages.  Ben Shahn spent several weeks here, composing photo essays on the harvest, farm auctions, and county fairs.   Visiting more than a dozen towns in eight counties, Shahn's photographs catalogued the Stryker script to create a sweeping portrait of small-town Ohio in 1938.

Nearly 75 years later, the streetscapes in many Ohio towns look much the same - and again Ohioans are struggling with economic uncertainties.  As the OHC rephotographic survey team revisited the scenes photographed in 1938, we found that Ohio's small towns are resilient and vibrant. These photographs invite us to reconsider the meaning of community and neighborhood. The civic infrastructure of Ohio remains the same even as the world around us changes.