While the muralists were restricted by the geographic area in which they painted and by the opinions of the people they were painting for, the photographers were more or less limited only by the nature of their medium. Put simply, painters by nature are able to be more interpretive because they are trying to recreate with their brushes what they see with their eyes. Photographers, on the other hand, are capturing exactly what their eyes see when they look through their lenses. Their role, in the WPA arts project, was stated as "preserving for the future an accurate and faithful chronicle in photographs of America." Thus, the primary aim of the photographers differs from that of the muralists. They were not employed to produce art that would promote social messages and subsequently enhance the quality of American life. Instead, they were commissioned to capture the past and help manipulate it into a positive future.

Berenice Abbott, was commissioned by the WPA to specifically photograph New York City, the world's greatest metropolis. "To photograph New York City, meant to seek to catch in the sensitive photographic emulsion the spirit of the metropolis, while remaining true to its essential fact, its hurrying tempo, its congested streets, the past jostling the present," she said (Abbott, Changing New York). She, like her fellow photographers, was employed to capture the reality of the spirit of American life. All of the photographers instructions were simply to snap photos of any and all things she saw. Abott and hundreds of other photographers just like herself set out and did just that, taking pictures of everything from a man grocery shopping, to adults at a dance club to the crowd at a high school football game. So what did all of these pictures mean? What stories did they tell, and why was their existence then and still today so important? According to Abbott, "There is a need in American, for those who have a real love of America, to preserve such records of the evolution of our cities, which symbolize the growth of the nation, as yet-uncrystallized and unformed"(Abbott).

These pictures of New York, and the others of places such as the Tennessee Valley or San Antonio, Texas essentially provided Americans with hope and with a usable knowledge of the regular life that lived each day in a country thought to be wrought with despair. What these photographers learned as they developed the scenes they'd witnessed and processed for the public the people they'd viewed, was that despite the Depression and the poverty, life was still being lived in small ways by many in America, and that fact was important to record, distribute, and remember in effort to help America and survive its economic hardship and become more aware of the culture they were co-existing with.