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Long Time Coming: A Photographic Portrait of America, 1935-1945
By Michael Lesy

Long Time Coming (W.W. Norton) tells the story of the historic efforts of Roy Stryker and the photographers who made up the Farm Security Administration (FSA). the FSA, an unprecedented and as of yet unparalleled documentary project, was founded to report on and record the United States in a time of crisis, from The Great Depression to World War II. Culled from more than 150,000 photographs commissioned as port of its information gathering efforts, the 400-plus pictures collected here bear careful reading. They are not the "top 10" iconic images we have come to identify with the FSA project—Dorthea Lange's "Migrant Mother," Walker Evan's bare Southern cabins, or Arthur Rothsteins' images of families leaning into dustbowl winds. All of these photographers are represented in this collection, but esteemed photo-historian Michael Lesy has instead served up a scholarly helping of the unsung, and, in some cases, heretofore unpublished imagery that abounds in the remarkable FSA archive, now housed at the Library of Congress.

Alongside the photos, organized into general themes and locations (family farms, hilltowns, "hard times") Lesy has included an abundance of written material: an incisive history of Roy Stryker (the man in charge of the project), anecdotes about the photographers, their original captions, shooting scripts, assigned readings given to the photographers on topics relevant to their work, and correspondence between Stryker and his team of documentarians. While the misfortune of this book lies in its plodding and unimaginative design, the unqualified richness of its material makes it an invaluable contribution to understanding this remarkable group of photographers and their voluminous output. Equally important, Long Time Coming evokes the forgotten lives and landscape of daily life in Depression-era America. From bridge parties in Vermont to funerals in Ponce, Puerto Rico; from former slaves in Georgia to sideshow carnies in West Virginia and homesteaders in Oregon; from rice fields in Louisiana to the coal mines of Pennsylvania, the resulting portrait of America is complex, rambling—at times overwhelming—but ultimately, compelling.

On a side note: Many of the images in this book and much of the FSA's archive of photographs are available online at Archival prints can be ordered for as little as $36, a tangible price of American history printed from the actual negatives on file.

—Lesley A. Martin

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