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Mt. Pleasant Historical Society views the Depression captured on film

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 10:38 a.m.

The Mt. Pleasant Historical Society welcomed former Westmoreland County Historical Society Executive Director James Steele to a recent meeting as part of its monthly speaker series.

Steele reviewed the work of five photographers who captured images from the Depression era.

Each of the five artists were part of the efforts set forth by the Farmers Security Administration, which hired photographers to set out across the country, capturing rural life and the effects of the Great Depression.

"The FSA initially hired hundreds of unemployed photographers who were set out to document the county," Steele said, adding that he selected the five photographers that he focused upon because of their local work. "It was their job to take these photos to teach people about the Great Depression. It was really abstract to most people in the country. They were to go out and photograph the faces of poverty in America."

Steele highlighted the photography of Carl Mydans, Marjory Collins, Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein and Ben Shahn.

Steele not only highlighted each of the photographers work, but explained how each of the artists pictures depicted that era and those times as seen through the individual eyes of the artist themselves.

The wonderful black and white photos showed local life in areas such as Hecla and Norvelt and touched upon the work performed by the women of that era that was completed in local defense factories and facilities.

"You have to understand, many people were not sold on the New Deal at the time," Steele said. "They wanted to show these people having a good time and enjoying life."

Steele spoke for about 40 minutes, showing dozens of photographs that not only showed life and family living in that time period, but a rare and unique glimpse into how these five photographers perceived America.

"We were happy to have Mr. Steele here tonight," society President Richard Snyder said. "He was a great addition to our monthly speaker series."

Steele added that his presentation was only a small sampling of the thousands of images that were taken at that time.

"There are 176,000 photographs in the national archives from all over the country that show small town life during the Great Depression," Steele said. "This could possibly be the most comprehensive record of people during a particular era."

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