« Return to this article

Know the West

Depression era photos from your hometown

A new Yale project allows viewers to explore 175,000 images by county.


Between 1935 and 1944, a group of photographers fanned out to document life across America. The initiative was a public relations move to bolster support for programs under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s contentious Farm Security Administration, which sought to help those hardest hit by the Great Depression. When it was over, some 175,000 photographs were transferred to the Library of Congress and eventually placed online, but they remained hard for the wider public to access.

Now, a team from Yale University has made it much easier to explore the photos snapped by legends like Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Arthur Rothstein, using an interactive web-based map and archive called Photogrammar. The map allows you to view images county-by-county, some of which appear here. “Nobody has seen them all,” says Laura Wexler, an American Studies professor at Yale and co-director the project. The photographers who headed West featured plenty of farmers and ranchers. But they also documented female factory workers in Washington, a man stacking magnesium bullion in Nevada, and a New Mexico woman cradling a wall of chili peppers. In every image, says Wexler, there’s a story to be told.