A Timeline of Social Documentary Practice
 1888-1914 | 1919 | 1924 | 1925 | 1926 | 1927 | 1928 | 1929 | 1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934 | 1935 | 1936-41 


Bernarr MacFadden

Begins publishing True Story magazine

Post-WWI Economic Boom

Stock market expansion peaks.

For a discussion of the economic cycle initiated see Colin Seymour's paper on

Kondratieff Waves

Sherwood Anderson

Winesburg, Ohio

A collection of tales of Midwestern small town life which influenced many subsequent writers, including William Faulkner
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A later Survey Graphic infographic
Pageant of America encyclopedia

Commodity Price Crash

Worsening the farm crisis evolving since 1918.

Sigmund Freud

Group Psychology and the Ego

Survey Graphic

A social work magazine for a popular audience.

Pageant of America

Encyclopedia (1921-25) featuring the extensive use of photographs

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“Very early it was realized that one of the conditions of successful social life for modern peoples was the understanding, the control, and the improvement of the uses of industrial forces.”

Rexford Tugwell & Roy Stryker

American Economic Life
Columbia University textbook

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Calvin Coolidge

Becomes President of the United States, declaring a clear agenda.

“The chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of opinion that the great majority of people will always find these are moving impulses of our life.”
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from Impressions of Old New Orleans

Arnold Genthe

Impressions of Old New Orleans

"I venture to hope that the photographs shown on the following pages— a series of impressions of old New Orleans laying no claim to any completeness— may help strengthen the feeling of responsibility twoards the preservation of a most precious architectural heritage, which ought to be a matter of pride and concern to every American."

—Arnold Genthe

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“Political facts are not outside human desires and judgment. Change men's estimate of the value of existing political agencies and forms, and the latter change more or less.”

Calvin Coolidge

Dedicates Mt. Rushmore. However, the work on the monument was not completed until 1941.

If a president had a body to match the head size, he would be 465 feet tall.

John Dewey

The Public and its Problems

Lyle Saxon

Father Mississippi

A typical, and yet anomalous book. It takes as its ostensible subject the Mississippi River, and yet it deeply explores the crisis of flooding in the delta in 1927.

Illustrated with a wide variety of photographs from both local photographers and government agencies, mostly uncredited. A list of illustrations follows immediately after the table of contents.

Saxon's book is partly folklore, and partly an empassioned plea for help.

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Doris Ulmann and Julia Peterkin ca. 1929-31

Lyle Saxon

Fabulous New Orleans

Julia Peterkin

Scarlet Sister Mary
Pulitzer Prize award, 1929

"Peterkin is a southern white woman, but she has the eye and the ear to see beauty and know truth."

—W. E. B. Du Bois

Doris Ulmann

begins photographing in the South

Herbert Hoover

Elected President of the United States

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Margaret Bourke-White, Boston, 1929

Black Friday

A stock market crash signals the depression

Leonard A. Williams

Illustrative Photography in Advertising

Margaret Bourke-White

Photographed a bank vault in Boston on October 29, during the crash.

Lyle Saxon

Old Louisiana

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Oliver LaFarge

Lyle Saxon

Lafitte, the Pirate

Archibald MacLeish

Joins the editorial board of Fortune.

Walker Evans

Illustrates Hart Crane's poem The Bridge.

Meets Ben Shahn.

I'll Take My Stand

A book by twelve Southern writers including Herman Clarence Nixon published.

Oliver LaFarge

Laughing Boy, a story of Native American life wins the Pulitzer Prize
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Margaret Bourke-White, Magnitogorsk, USSR, 1931

Walker Evans

Photographs Victorian homes in the Boston area. Develops his signature straightforward style. Shares a studio with Ben Shahn, who later contributed photographs to the FSA.

Margaret Bourke-White

Continues photographing in Russia (her first trip was in 1930) and doing industrial assignments. Concern over the Soviet Union was high, because it's industrial production was climbing while the US was in decline. Continues photographing there until 1933.

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Franklin Roosevelt and a voter, 1930
Erskine Caldwell

Henri Cartier-Bresson

First New York exhibition at The Gallery Julian Levy

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Elected President of the United States

“The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

Inaugural Address, March 1933

Erskine Caldwell

Tobacco Road

Archibald MacLeish

Awarded Pulitzer Prize for Conquistador

Lewis Hine

Men at Work
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Doris Ulmann, from Roll, Jordan, Roll

Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933

Passed May 12, 1933 to provide subsidies to help farmers by paying them not to grow crops. Followed in June by the

National Industrial Recovery Act.

FDR during a fireside chat, 1933

Walker Evans

First one-man show by a photographer at the Museum of Modern Art. The subject was Victorian Architecture of New England.

Dorothea Lange

Begins photographing the destitute in San Francisco, including White Angel Breadline

Julia Peterkin & Doris Ulmann

Roll, Jordan, Roll

Hailed as one of the first books to depict African-Americans as people rather than stereotypes.

Rexford Tugwell

Appointed Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. Brings Roy Stryker with him as photographic consultant. Stryker involved in an agricultural encyclopedia from 1933-35, which was never published.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Begins speaking to the American people on radio.

Fireside Chats

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“I am of course glad to have people interested in my pictures as examples of the art of photography, but my great wish is that these human records shall serve some social purpose.”

— Doris Ulmann

Eudora Welty, 1935-6

“I decided if I couldn't make a movie, I would collect news photographs and do a picture book in the form of a newsreel with large captions at the top and concise news paragraphs alongside the big pictures.”

— Pare Lorentz

Doris Ulmann

Dies while working on a project documenting handicrafts of the Southern highlands, leaving 2,000 plates undeveloped.

Margaret Bourke-White

Documents the Midwestern drought for Fortune, and works on a forerunner of Life magazine, Eyes on the World.

Dorothea Lange

Begins working with Paul Taylor, publishing "San Francisco and the General Strike" in Survey Graphic, September 1934.

Eudora Welty

Upset at Ulmann's sentimental photographs for Roll, Jordan, Roll begins working on a book of her own, Black Saturday

Welty attempts to get it published for three years with no success.

Pare Lorentz

The Roosevelt Year a Photographic Record
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Dorothea Lange, San Francisco 1934

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Exhibition with Walker Evans, Gallery Julian Levy

Roy Stryker

Appointed to the newly created Resettlement Administration as head of the Historical Division, of what was later called the FSA. Arthur Rothstein was the first photographer hired. Carl Mydans and Walker Evans soon followed.

Dorothea Lange

Made numerous trips in California documenting migrant workers with Paul Taylor. Was hired in late 1935, after Stryker saw her photos in Survey Graphic

Ben Shahn

Moved to Washington DC in August 1935 to begin working with the Special Skills division of the Resettlement Administration.


 1888-1914 | 1919 | 1921 | 1924 | 1925 | 1926 | 1927 | 1928 | 1929 | 1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934 | 1936-41