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Maria Hebert-Leiter

Maria Hebert-Leiter

Images of Depression-Era Louisiana | Presented by Maria Hebert-Leiter, Ph.D

Thursday October 26, 2017 | 3 pm
Images of Depression-Era Louisiana Book Cover
In the 1930s, the U.S. government famously sent photographers across the country to document on film the need for federal assistance in rural areas. Dorothea Lange’s well-known image Migrant Mother came from this effort, along with thousands of other photographs. Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott contributed to this compelling body of images. As primary photographers for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in the state of Louisiana, the three took more than 2,600 photographs, recording the modest homes, family gatherings, and working lives of citizens across the state. In Images of Depression-Era Louisiana, Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter curate more than 150 of those photographs, offering a riveting collection that captures this pivotal time in Louisiana’s history.
The book’s stunning photo gallery, with original captions, provides a moving visual tour of Louisiana during a period of economic struggle and transition. Organized by photographer, parish, and date, the revealing images reflect an era when extreme poverty exacerbated the divide between classes and races. Scenes of agricultural and rural communities―families in clapboard houses, sugarcane cutters in the field, and trappers navigating bayous―as well as cityscapes of New Orleans’s bustling markets, busy docks, and peaceful Jackson Square demonstrate the scope of the photographers’ work and the diversity of conditions and occupations they found.
Giemza and Hebert-Leiter trace the genesis of the FSA Collection, examine its role in promoting the documentary style of picture-taking, and explore the motivations and methods of the collection’s head, Roy E. Stryker. They sketch the biographies, techniques, and perspectives of Shahn, Lee, and Wolcott, explaining how the photographers operated in Louisiana from their first experiences to their last days in the state. Letters and other archival documents further illuminate the three artists’ impressions of Louisiana, its people, and its traditions.
Giemza and Hebert-Leiter trace the genesis of the FSA Collection, examine its role in promoting the documentary style of picture-taking, and explore the motivations and methods of the collection’s head, Roy E. Stryker. They sketch the biographies, techniques, and perspectives of Shahn, Lee, and Wolcott, explaining how the photographers operated in Louisiana from their first experiences to their last days in the state. Letters and other archival documents further illuminate the three artists’ impressions of Louisiana, its people, and its traditions.
Originally from Thibodaux, Louisiana, Maria Hebert-Leiter currently teaches composition and American literature at Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA. She returns home through her writing, which includes Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke (LSU Press, 2009) and essays on Louisiana literature published in MELUS and Mississippi Quarterly, among other journals. Her interest in the representation of Louisiana ethnicities in literature connects all of her work, including Images of Depression-Era Louisiana: The FSA Photographs of Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott (LSU 2017), a book of collected photographs taken by three Farm Security Administration photographers in Louisiana between 1935 and 1941.