cover image Picturing Faith: Photography and the Great Depression

Picturing Faith: Photography and the Great Depression

Colleen McDannell. Yale University Press, $52 (319pp) ISBN 978-0-300-10430-1

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.