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Picturing Faith: Religious America in Government Photography, 1935-1943

August 19 - Sept. 28, 2007
West Gallery

In 1935, in order to generate support for New Deal reforms, the Historical Division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) began making a photographic survey of economic struggle and social dislocation in Depression era America. Historical Division director, Roy E. Stryker, also wanted to produce a composite picture of American society, so in the "scripts" he sent out to his photographers, he asked them to include pictures of America's religious life. These "sociologists with cameras" entered the homes and churches of the poor as well as the middle class. They photographed people in prayer, domestic shrines, dinner graces, parishioners going into their churches, revival meetings, and even the gospel trucks of itinerate preachers. While many of the FSA (and later Office of War Information) photographs are familiar, this is the first exhibition of how government photographers represented religion during this critical time in our nation's history.

"Picturing Faith" 45 black-and-white photographs gathered from the FSA and OWI archives of the Library of Congress. The exhibition was curated by Colleen McDannell, Sterling M. McMurrin Professor of Religious Studies and professor of history at the University of Utah, and is based on her recent book, "Picturing Faith: photography and the great depression" from Yale University Press.

"Picturing Faith" at Michigan State University is sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies and a number of educational programs are in development for MSU students and the community.

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Image courtesy:

Gospel Truck
John Vachon
July 1939
Washington, D.C