The Bitter Years: The Farm Security Administration Photographs Through the Eyes of Edward Steichen
Françoise Poos and Jean Back
‘The Bitter Years’ was the title of a seminal exhibition held in 1962 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, curated by Edward Steichen, and 2012 marks its 50th anniversary. The show featured 209 images by photographers who worked under the aegis of the US Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1935–41 as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Great Depression of the 1930s defined a generation in modern American history and was still a vivid memory in 1962. The FSA, set up to combat rural poverty, included an ambitious photography project that launched many photographic careers, most notably those of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. The exhibition featured their work as well as that of ten other FSA photographers, including Ben Shahn, Carl Mydans and Arthur Rothstein. Their images are among the most remarkable in documentary photography – testimonies of a people in crisis, hit by the full force of economic turmoil and the effects of drought and dust storms. The Bitter Years celebrates some of the most iconic photographs ofthe 20th century and, since no proper catalogue was produced at the time, provides a whole new insight into Steichen’s impact on the history of documentary photography.