Material History of American Religion Project

Colleen McDannell

Picturing Faith:
Religious America in Government Photography, 1935-1943

Photographs produced by the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration have achieved the status of cultural emblems in the American imagination. From college textbooks to television programs, images such as Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" are employed as well-known reminders of the Depression and New Deal. The 270,000 prints available at the Library of Congress provide a summary of life during the thirties and early forties and therefore contain an accessible and rich collection of visual representations of people being religious. Photographers depicted religious spaces, activities, images, communities, and leaders. McDannell's proposed book will examine how the director of the division and his photographers used the FSA photographs to delineate a particular vision of religious America. It will focus both on individual photographers (eg. Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange, John Collier, Marion Wolcott Post) and on specific religious representations (eg. a black Spiritual church, Mexican American home shrines, a Catholic priest's daily life). Each of the seven will include a short essay and a series of photographs illustrating the points of the essay. Tentative chapter titles are: 1) The Farm Security Administration Photographs 2) Poverty and Religion in America 3) Churches without People: The Photographer as Artist 4) At Home in Christian America 5) Priests, People, and Pictures: John Collier in New Mexico 6) Ella Watson and the Spiritual Church 7) Documenting America's Religions through Photography. McDannell discussed her work in an interview with the project's director and associate director. She has also put together a traveling exhibit of the photographs.

Colleen McDannell is the Sterling McMurrin Professor of Religious Studies and [Professor of History at the University of Utah. In 1984 she received her doctorate in Religious Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia. Her publications include three books: Material Christianity: Popular Culture and Religion in America (Yale University Press, 1995) that contains chapters on popular art, cemeteries, Lourdes water, Mormon garments, and Christian retailing; Heaven: A History with Bernhard Lang, (Yale University Press, 1988); and The Christian Home in Victorian America: 1840-1900 (Indiana University Press, 1986). Her articles range from examinations of nineteenth-century Irish-American masculinity to interpretations of evangelical home schooling.

Department of History
211 Carlson Hall
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112

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