Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back To The Future

I am not thinking of a series of movies and time machines, but this week’s address by Barack Obama announcing his plans and intentions to put millions of Americans back to work. Of course newspaper columnists and TV pundits have already harkened back to the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the new Deal and its WPA organization to get people working during the Depression. But for me it recalled a very small part of the WPA that produced a lasting memorial to those times by a small team of photographers including Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Their photographs, many of which have become well known are now in the Library of Congress and anyone can order prints for a very nominal fee. Considering what an Ansel Adams print fom the same era would cost today, in many respects what the WPA photographers and the Library of Congress catalogue of images has provided the American public, I believe is really more “American”.

So the question is, will the Obama administration follow the precedent of the 1930’s WPA and put photographers to work documenting American life in this time for future generations to see and enjoy? It does not seem likely today’s politics and practical challenges will call for an exact repeat, a new New Deal or a WPA, but we can hope can’t we? Isn’t that the theme Obama won on? Of course if enough of Americas millions of photographers launched a letter and e-mail campaign via the Barack Obama web site ( who knows. He is our first “connected” President elect, although security concerns are threatening to turn off his Blackberry.

Interesting though there is a modern technology precedent that might add weight to the concept of a WPA photographer II project. It is maybe prescient that the Democratic wife of California’s Republican Governor, Maria Shriver recently unveiled the California Legacy Trails. This is a new Adobe software based interactive featured web site of the California Museum web site. It could very well be a model for a US national web site project that would be a perfect venue for the photographs (and video) if such a project as the WPA photography team should be revived by the Obama Administration.

Although I am just dreaming out loud of course, this new California Museum web site is an ideal model for how the American story can be told in a way anyone can relate to in words, photographs and video. The reason I find it ideal is that it is not just one story but many, as the American dream is not just one vision but many, as many as there are individuals who make up all of America. Take a look at this web site and I think you will find why I am inspired that it is a model, not just for the work of a new WPA photography team should that come about, but more importantly as a way to tell the American story to the children and even adults who could benefit by a broader understanding of what it is to be a human being in America.

View the video at:

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