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Historical Photos Reveal Hardships and Hopes

Depression-Era Photography from the Chrysler Museum

NORFOLK, Va. (March 30, 2017) — Explore how the people of Hampton Roads endured and overcame the economic and everyday trials of America in the 1930s and 1940s through a new exhibition of Chrysler photographs at the Willoughby-Baylor House.

Click to enlarge

John Vachon, Men Eating at Salvation Army, Newport News, Virginia. Gelatin silver print (photograph) taken in March 1941, and printed in 1984. Click image to enlarge.

A New Deal Near Here: Depression-Era Photography from the Chrysler Museum features 46 photographs that examine this critical period in our region's history and ask visitors to consider how Hampton Roads has transformed and how it remains the same. The exhibition opens at noon on Saturday, April 15, 2017 at the historic Willoughby-Baylor House, 601 E. Freemason Street in Norfolk, and will be on view weekends through April 1, 2018. Admission is free.

Shortly after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933, his administration implemented a series of public works programs designed to combat poverty, rebuild infrastructure, and stimulate the economy—what would be known collectively as the New Deal.

One of the more far-reaching New Deal agencies was the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which sought to help ailing agrarian communities. The FSA also included a pioneering photography program that set out to document the country's economic devastation and demonstrate the need for Roosevelt's New Deal.

Program Director Roy Stryker encouraged FSA photographers to learn about the country's resources and how each region supported the nation as a whole. Their job encouraged and enabled them "to show America to Americans" through photography. "To do this kind of job, the photographer has to be more than an artist—he must be something of an economist…and social investigator," he said.

With this in mind, photographers Paul Carter, Jack Delano, Arthur Rothstein, and John Vachon traveled throughout Hampton Roads and Virginia's Eastern Shore. A New Deal Near Here focuses on their work in the eastern Commonwealth.

The photographs resonated with curatorial intern Deborah Schoen, who organized and researched the exhibition in late 2016 and early 2017. "The amount of literature on the Great Depression, Roosevelt's New Deal, and FSA photography is vast," she said. "For me, the real learning began when I traveled to these places, interviewed people, and heard their stories. It made the work more real and more personal."

The Farm Security Administration project produced one of the largest photographic archives ever created by the U.S. government. This show reexamines this material, breaking new ground by concentrating on powerful images of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. The works examine how the region grappled with economic struggle and how the residents worked towards recovery.

"The FSA photography project has been widely studied, but Deborah has uncovered new stories by closely studying the wealth of period photographs in our collection," said Seth Feman, the Chrysler's acting Curator of Photography, who supervised Schoen's research. "Deborah has spent as much time on the road as she has in the library, following the FSA photographers' trail. A New Deal Near Here has made me all the more enthusiastic about our region. I am sure our visitors will feel the same."

A New Deal Near Here: Depression-Era Photography from the Chrysler Museum will be on view weekends from April 15, 2017 to April 1, 2018 at the Willoughby-Baylor House, 601 E. Freemason Street, Norfolk, Va. The Chrysler's Historic Houses are open to the public Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.


Contact Amber Kennedy
(757) 340-7425