In the past few weeks, several projects have arisen to photographically document the recession. Just today, for example, the New York Times launched Picturing the Recession, through which the paper is encouraging readers around the world to submit photos that use “creative ways of documenting the changes around you.” And last month, Slate asked readers to “Shoot the Recession,” in part because “economic times produce indelible images. The Great Depression calls to mind grainy news photos of bank runs and soup kitchens, and the harrowing portraits taken by Walker Evans.”
Of course, it also calls to mind the iconic works of Dorothea Lange, whose photographs for the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration have become the defining images of that time. Collecting never-before-published photos and captions from Lange’s fieldwork in California, the Pacific Northwest, and North Carolina during 1939, Anne Whiston Spirn’s Daring to Look presents images that had languished in archives since Lange was dismissed from the Farm Security Administration at the end of that year.
Unflinchingly portraying the last century’s major economic crisis, these photos set a high standard for all of those now documenting the current recession. As Lange herself said, this is a crucial standard to meet: “No country has ever closely scrutinized itself visually.… I know what we could make of it if people only thought we could dare look at ourselves.”