Art Term

American social realist photography

American social realist photography refers to photographs that documented rural poverty during America’s Great Depression of the 1930s and 1940s

Walker Evans
Interior Detail, West Virginia, Coal Miner's House 1935
Gelatin silver print

© Walker Evans

Photographers were commissioned by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) to document rural poverty and exploitation of sharecroppers and migrant labourers in an attempt to garner support for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The photographs were distributed free of charge to newspapers across the country and brought the plight of displaced farming communities to the public’s attention.

The most famous images were made by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, whose black-and-white stills of starving fruit-pickers in California became iconic symbols of the Great Depression.