In the fall of 1940, a young photographer working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a New Deal program designed to assist small farmers, drove from Washington, D.C. to Connecticut, tasked with documenting the diversity of its people, its changing economy, and its autumnal landscape. Armed with a camera, Jack Delano (1914-1997) captured scenes of everyday life throughout the state as it was beginning to pull out of the Great Depression, cataloging its large factories, traditional farms, and small towns. Delano was part of a troupe of FSA photographers, hired to record the country’s rural problems and the agency’s response to them. The photographs this group produced between 1935 and 1943, numbering more than 75,000 images, were reprinted in the media and dramatized the plight of rural America and the need for the FSA’s work.
Inspired by the remarkable collection of Delano’s photographs preserved at the Library of Congress, this exhibition returns to Connecticut as it was 1940, a pivotal year that marked a turning point in the state’s economy as it became a major center of wartime industry. As airplanes, engines, munitions, ships, and parachutes left Connecticut’s factories, World War II lifted the state out of the Great Depression and helped speed up the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy.
Born in the Ukraine as Jacob Ovcharov, Delano emigrated to the United States with his family in 1923 and studied art and music at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. While on a grant to visit the artistic masterpieces of Europe in 1935, Delano had the realization that although he would never be a great painter like Van Gogh or Brueghel, he could turn to photography to “show the same concern and understanding for ordinary people that I found so compelling in the work of artists I admired so much.” He returned to the United States with a new mission, to become a documentary photographer.
Delano began working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in early 1940, after producing a series of photographs documenting the work of coal miners in Pennsylvania. He later wrote that he believed the “camera could be a means of communicating how I felt about the problems facing the country,” and he hoped that his works would be able to influence society. Delano traveled throughout the United States as an FSA photographer before serving in the Air Force during World War II. After the war, he settled with his wife Irene in Puerto Rico, where he lived for the rest of his life.