Taken by a host of talented photographers, the Farm Security Administration photographs have become the defining visual imagery of the Great Depression. Familiar, beautifully composed, and free from reproduction copyright, these photographs have become an essential tool for interpreting a number of facets of the 1930s, especially that of poverty. As useful as the images are, the nature of their creation and the embedded messages regarding hardship mean that they are not as universal as is sometimes presumed. This article examines how the images facilitate interpretation of Great Depression history, particularly that which pertains to the experience of poverty, and the repercussions and limitations of their use.

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