Unconscious adult conceptions of America, in fact, fueled the entire FSA photography project. Roy Stryker, who grew up in a small Colorado town, once admitted about his tenure at the FSA:

During the whole eight years, I held onto a personal dream that inevitably got translated into black-and-white pictures: I wanted to do a pictorial encyclopedia of American agriculture. My footnotes to the photographers' instructions ("keep your eyes open for a rag doll and a corn tester") undoubtedly accounted for the great number of photographs that got into the collection which had nothing to do with official business (Stryker 7).

Some of the photos, according to Stryker himself, reflected aspects of life not directly related to Farm Security Administration projects. Moreover, his view of "American agriculture" included the presence of carefree children, as evidenced by his desire for an image of "a rag doll," as opposed to a store-bought one. According to Nancy Wood, who co-edited Stryker's book about FSA photographs, In This Proud Land, and wrote a biographic essay about him, "The town pictures had a curious effect on Stryker, taking him back to the scene of his youth in Montrose, Colorado" (Stryker 15). She quotes Stryker's reflections on a series of Evans' prints extensively:

I remember Walker Evans' picture of the train tracks in a small town, like Montrose. The empty station platform, the station thermometer, the idle baggage carts, the quiet stores, the people talking together, and beyond them, the weatherbeaten houses where they lived, all this reminded me of the town where I had grown up. I would look at pictures like that and long for a time when the world was safer and more peaceful. I'd think back to the days before radio and television when all there was to do was go down to the tracks and watch the flyer go through. That was the nostalgic way in which those town pictures hit me (Stryker 15).

Like other adult viewers of his staff's work, Stryker was at least partially moved by the photographs because, in them, he glimpsed his own childhood and felt nostalgic for it. He could not objectively state that at a given moment in time, the world was safe and peaceful. More likely, Stryker's perceptions of his childhood world were "safer and more peaceful" than his adult awareness of contemporary conditions. In fact, in 1893, the year of his birth, the United States faced another economic failure. However, Stryker would have been too young to understand or even remember that "six hundred banks closed their doors, thousands of business firms failed, and seventy-four railroads (including the Philadelphia and Reading, the North Pacific, Erie, and the Santa Fe) went into receivership" (Schlereth 174).

Even the title of Stryker's 1973 book--In This Proud Land--reflects a valuation, an attempt to confer a specific judgment on how the nation responded to the Depression. While working on the book, he confided to Wood, "Sure the kids looked grim sometimes." He added: "So did their parents. Nobody had a dime. But they had a whole lot more. They had each other, as corny as that sounds today. A family stuck together. It's all there was" (Stryker 17). Forty years' hindsight, however, seems to have dimmed his memory. In 1932, California claimed 60,000 unemployed heads of households. Atlanta, Georgia, reported 4,000 families on relief. In Toledo, Ohio, that number reached 9,000. Relief workers in St. Louis, Missouri, were forced to drop 13,000 of 25,000 families because of low funding. The average monthly family income in New York City dropped from $141.50 to $8.20 ("No One Has Starved'). Not all of those families stayed together. Imagine, then, how colored his childhood recollections from 1893 must have been in 1935 when he tried to re-create Montrose, Colorado, through FSA imagery.

Some may argue that, as individual photographers, Evans, Lang, Rothstein, Shahn, Wolcott, and their colleagues brought a plethora of personal qualities and predispositions to their work; the differences in their approaches and talents would have outweighed Stryker's personal biases. Even Orvell concedes that "[t]he individual photographers working for Stryker all inevitably (and deliberately) possessed a unique style and point of view." However, he notes, "their role as government workers was to gather information, and not to be artists. And to the extent that they were following instructions from Washington, fulfilling stated needs for specific kinds of pictures (erosion, floods, parched lands, FSA rehabilitation projects, etc.), the pictures seem at times interchangeable" (228-229). The FSA camera people displayed more artistry in their pictures than Orvell grants. However, he correctly asserts the influence wielded by their supervisor. Stryker often educated his photographers on the regions to which they were assigned. He also wrote shooting scripts and requested specific types of images, scenes, and content (Stryker 15). Moreover, as Stott suggests, "[t]he heart of documentary is not form or style or medium, but always content" (14). Regardless of what the photographers brought to their assignments, their photographic subjects varied little because Stryker, at least indirectly, chose them.

'30s Documentary
Innocence in Art
Romantic Portrayals
Family Photos
Knowing Images
Adult Projections
Happy Children