Synopses & Reviews
In the midst of the Great Depression, the American government initiated one of the most ambitious national photographic projects ever undertaken. Such photographers as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Gordon Parksand#151;all then virtually unknownand#151;were commissioned to chronicle in pictures the economic struggle and social dislocation of the Depression era. They explored every facet of rural life in an effort to document the troubles, as well as the spirit, of the nation.
Fanning out across the country, these photographers captured a nation alive with religious faithand#151;from Dust Bowl migrants singing hymns to orthodox Jews praying in rural Connecticut. In Picturing Faith, the preeminent historian of religion Colleen McDannell recounts the history of this extraordinary project, telling the stories of the men and women who participated in it and exploring these little-known images of America.
Lavishly illustrated, Picturing Faith teases out the various and conflicting ways that these photographers portrayed American religion and enhances our understanding of how religion was practiced during this critical period of American history.
"McDannell presents a persuasive case that religion has been overlooked in our historical understanding of the enduring photographs of the Great Depression. She opens the book by comparing Dorothea Lange's most famous portrait, 'Migrant Mother,' with a less famous image that presents a very different image of a Depression-era woman, this one with arms outstretched in a posture of outright Christian joy. Snapping the picture at a revival meeting in a dilapidated garage, Lange took great pains to record the woman's words as she testified about her strong faith. In this book, McDannell draws upon a sampling of the approximately 164,000 black-and-white photographs that the federal government commissioned between 1935 and 1943, pointing out how religion appears throughout as an important facet of daily life for many Americans. We see images of Jews farming in Connecticut and New Jersey (in striking contrast to the stereotypical interwar depictions of Jews as entirely urban people); of African-American Christians in Chicago and throughout the South (including pictures of the oft-overlooked blacks who worshiped in Catholic and Episcopalian churches); and various charitable efforts that religious institutions ran to feed the hungry and house the homeless. This book is a significant addition to our understanding of the importance of religion in the Great Depression." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Colleen McDannell is professor of history and Sterling M. McMurrin Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Utah.