Hard Times

The US stock market crash of 1929 set off the most severe economic depression in the Western world. These images depict the poverty, labor unrest, unemployment, and homelessness that typified the times. Read full overview

About the Images

These images show how the Great Depression affected ordinary people. They depict the poverty, labor unrest, unemployment, and homelessness that typified the times.

Overview

The US stock market crash of 1929 set off the most severe economic depression in the Western world. The so-called Great Depression lasted more than a decade, until approximately 1941. In the United States, the general atmosphere was one of desolation, as expressed in the Dorothea Lange photograph "Thirteen Million Unemployed Fill the City in the Early Thirties," which shows men leaning against a wall in San Francisco.

Many photographs in this topic were taken by Lange, one of the primary chroniclers of the Great Depression. Lange had been taking portraits of wealthy individuals in her studio, but she felt compelled to go out on the streets and take photographs of everyday people. In 1933, she marked the start of her documentary career what she called her "first street image": "White Angel Bread Line," a photograph of a man waiting for food at a soup kitchen run by a San Francisco widow.

The images in this group reflect the lives of average citizens struggling to get by. Photographs show unemployed men waiting in long lines. One Lange photo shows a man sleeping in a parking lot.

Rural areas were also hard hit. As several of these images show, some people lived in "Hoovervilles" — temporary towns of makeshift housing that got their name from President Herbert Hoover, who was blamed for the problems that led to the Depression. The image captions written at the time (such as "Not much room in this one room shack, but it’s shelter from a trying winter" and "These Hooverville children are ashamed of their home — can you blame them?") express the conditions that people endured and reveal the way people felt.

Read full exhibition overview

Note about image quality

Some of the images in this exhibition--most notably, the photographs taken by Dorothea Lange--do not accurately represent the high quality of the original images. This is due to the technology available at the time they were scanned. We hope to have new versions of the photographs available soon.

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