In contrast, it's easy to admire the artistry of Shahn's photo of a vacuum cleaner factory at Arthurdale, but it doesn't stir one's emotions like the images in the first category.
From the outset, the FSA photo project had plenty of critics. Republicans in Congress denounced it as little more than taxpayer-paid propaganda on behalf of FDR and his administration. Within West Virginia, the project also drew fire from those who worried about the image some of the photographs projected. Gov. Homer Holt singled out a photograph of a miner taking a washtub bath. The photo, Holt complained, might make some people think there were no bathtubs in West Virginia.
In the face of such criticism, it seems remarkable that Stryker was able to keep the FSA project afloat for so long. But then, Stryker was a remarkable man. A Colorado native and World War I veteran, he did postgraduate work under economist Rexford Tugwell at Columbia University, and when Tugwell went to Washington as part of the New Deal administration, he took Stryker with him.
At Columbia, Stryker had hit on the idea of using photographs to enliven an economics textbook, so it's perhaps not surprising that when he was placed in charge of the FSA's Historical Section he immediately starting hiring photographers and handing them assignments.
"In retrospect," writes Rivard, "it is hard to imagine anyone else getting the kind of results that Stryker was able to accomplish through his staff."
But, in the final analysis, surely Stryker's greatest accomplishment came not during his day-to-day efforts at the FSA but during its final days before shutting down, when he arranged that its thousands of negatives be turned over to the Library of Congress. Today, decades after they were taken, the FSA photographs have been carefully preserved and cataloged by the Library of Congress, which has made hundreds of them available online.
In compiling her West Virginia collection, Rivard has included the Library of Congress negative file numbers so that interested readers may access the original image through the library's website, www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/fsa/.
James E. Casto, a retired Huntington newspaper editor, frequently reviews books for the Sunday Gazette-Mail.