Academic journal article American Studies

TO THE CITY: Urban Photographs of the New Deal

Academic journal article American Studies

TO THE CITY: Urban Photographs of the New Deal

Article excerpt

TO THE CITY: Urban Photographs of the New Deal. By Julia L. Foulkes. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2011.

Cultural historians have neglected the urban photographs of thirties and forties America in favor of rural depictions, especially the many thousands produced by the gifted staffof the Farm Security Administration (FSA). In To the City: Urban Photographs of the New Deal Julia A. Foulkes proposes to redress that imbalance by examining the smaller but not insignificant quantity of urban images made by the FSA photographers, 101 of which the book reproduces. That worthwhile objective, however, is defeated by a weak, sometimes misleading historical context; inadequate glosses on a number of the reproductions, often little more than paraphrases of content; and the author's insufficient research, which weakens the authority of her analysis of the FSA and its photographs.

The book's subtitle, Urban Photographs of the New Deal, is misleading inasmuch as the FSA's was not the only federally sponsored photography in the New Deal. Numerous agencies employed photographers, some urban-oriented, the most important of whom was Berenice Abbott, whose "Changing New York" project was underwritten by the Federal Arts Project. She and her project go unmentioned in To the City.

Foulkes remarks that the FSA photographers "largely stay[ed] away from the potent issues of the day, including race relations" (7). Sadly, race relations were not a pressing concern for the New Deal but had Foulkes consulted Nicholas Natanson's The Black Image in the New Deal she would have discovered that African Americans were featured in the FSA's photographs slightly more often than their percentage comprised in the U. …

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