The Collective Picture

Vintage Photography Redefined

admin On August - 15 - 2009

Times of economic uncertainty provide the fertile ground for change. When stability abounds we tend to ignore the potential for collapse and thrive in states of elated compliance. When the structures that we have come to rely on become undependable moments exist for restructuring and rebirth. It is from these growing pains that we will, with any foresight and a little luck, emerge better off for having gone through it.

Health care in the United States has long been a contentious issue, with so many citizens uninsured costs can bankrupt families and devastate lives. But with a progressive President in power in the middle of an economic collapse the plight of so many Americans financial situations in relation to medical costs has fanned the flames of health care reform. As has the reform to money lending, as attempts are being made to restrict companies from taking advantage of customers and prevent the path that has lead to the current credit crisis. Similarly the drive to jump start the automotive industry has provided the cash for clunkers program, a concept that has been used in many different countries. This program has provided incentives for the removal of old automobiles, creating positive change for environmental issues by getting older and heavy polluting automobiles off of the road. The responses to these times are reflective of the crisis as well as the political and social atmosphere that will eventually mix to create a future, hopefully improved by the changes that have been implemented. It is crucial that we acknowledge these moments of crisis as just that ‘a crisis’ but also opportunities for a transformative process that, I would argue, would not have been possible without the economic collapse as a catalyst.  There is no way of predicting what future the reformative process will leave us with but I think that looking at historical records is one of the best ways to gain insight.

The Great Depression ripped the economic stability straight out of the pockets of many people. Similar to today the government had to respond and these images are depictions of this assistance. There were food assistance programs, work programs and community efforts all mobilized to deal with the ballooning populations of unemployed, homeless and financially destitute.

The adaptations that occurred during The Great Depression created such work programs as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC not only provided employment but also the infrastructure to support important conservation work, see images of the CCC here This time period also saw the emergence of governmental reform to labour such as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This Act restricted labour hours and establishing overtime pay for those who worked beyond it and restricted those under 16 from entering the work force. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was also created, designed to provide support under the aims of the New Deal. It not only created jobs and supported training and education initiatives but also arts and cultural projects such as theater programs. The lasting legacy of this program can be seen in the infrastructures that the WPA (and the 8,500,000 that worked with this program) created.

“During its 8-year history, the WPA built 651,087 miles of highways, roads, and streets; and constructed, repaired, or improved 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, 8,192 parks, and 853 airport landing fields.”

The legacy of The Great Depression in infrastructure, environmentalism, labor laws and social support systems have continued to define nations and people long after the return to economic stability. Like today we have found ourselves in a massive recession that has left many wondering what the policies, the bailouts and reforms will leave us with.  We may not be able to find affirmed answers to these questions but we can play an important role by being critical and reflective about the transformative process and raising questions about the future these reforms will ultimately create.

1938 farmer child wpa depression ohio The Great Depression & The Current Recession: Decline & Reformevents1938 Aug. Ex-farmer and child, now on W.P.A. (Work Projects Administration), central Ohio. Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).
1938 william shift hooverville ohio depression The Great Depression & The Current Recession: Decline & Reformevents
1938 Summer. William A. Swift, once a farmer, now a resident of Circleville’s “Hooverville.” When he returned from the war he went West. “Made awful good money jobbin’ around.” Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

“General caption for this series of images: Circleville, county seat of Pickaway County. Average small Ohio city, depending upon surrounding rich farmlands for its livelihood. Because of its non-industrial surroundings, retains much of old-time flavor. Outstanding industries: Eshelman’s Feed Mill. Employs 150-200 men the year ’round. Pay averages about eighty-five cents an hour. Container Corporation of America makes paper out of straw, can absorb by-product of all neighboring farms. In addition, a number of canneries and feed mills. During depression many farms of the district were foreclosed. People who lost homes naturally gravitated toward the town. A town of its character is unable to house new influx of population. Consequently there sprang up around it an extensive Hooverville. Circleville got its name through having been built in a circle as a better protection against the Indians. For further information Chamber of Commerce, Circleville. Circleville is the home of Ted Lewis.”

1934 school children bread line The Great Depression & The Current Recession: Decline & Reformevents
2 August 1934. Schoolchildren line up for free issue of soup and a slice of bread in the Depression, Belmore North Public School, Sydney, Sam Hood. State Library of New South Wales
1937 wpa march housing supreme court The Great Depression & The Current Recession: Decline & Reformevents
1937 January 16. WPA march in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Harris & Ewing, photographer. Harris & Ewing Collection (Library of Congress).

1931 unemployed ment soup kitchen chicago The Great Depression & The Current Recession: Decline & Reformevents
02/1931. Unemployed men queued outside a depression soup kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone.
Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S), National Archives. ARC Identifier 541927 / Local Identifier 306-NT-165319c.
1932 breadlines New York The Great Depression & The Current Recession: Decline & Reformevents
ca. 02/1932. Depression Breadlines, long line of people waiting to be fed, New York City. Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (NLFDR) ARC Identifier 196499 Item from Collection FDR-PHOC.
1931 national social welfare organization depreesion support The Great Depression & The Current Recession: Decline & Reformevents
1943 poster. The Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (NSV), or National Socialist Welfare Organisation, was created in 1931, to assist poor families during the Depression. In the course the Second World War, it became the NSDAP official section for national welfare, overseeing the evacuation of children from cities (where they were at risk from bombing raids) to the countryside, and providing childcare for women employed in war-work. This poster presents photographic images of kindergartens, and of women, free to work because of the NSV. One caption reads, ‘her child is well cared for in the work’s crèche. With a glad heart she is now able to make superior weapons for our soldiers’ campaign.’ Gift of the American Friends of the V&A; Gift to the American Friends by Leslie, Judith and Gabri Schreyer and Alice Schreyer Batko.
1935 federal theater project depression new york circus The Great Depression & The Current Recession: Decline & Reformevents
ca. 1935 WPA Federal Theater Project in New York, Circus. ARC Identifier 195755 Item from Collection FDR-PHOC
1935 federal theater new york eternal prodigal depression The Great Depression & The Current Recession: Decline & Reformevents
ca. 1935. WPA Federal Theater Project in New York: “Eternal Prodigal” ARC Identifier 195728 Item from Collection FDR-PHOC

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