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The politics and the photographers who shaped those images under the auspices of the federal Farm Security Administration come to life in “Documenting the Face of America: Roy Stryker and the F.S.A./O.W.I. Photographers,” an hourlong documentary on most PBS stations Monday night. The film shows how Mr. Stryker turned a small government agency’s New Deal project to document poverty into a visual anthology of thousands of images of American life in the 1930s and early ’40s that helped shape modern documentary photography; more than 160,000 are now at the Library of Congress.
Before television or the Internet, when many Americans lacked even a radio, the photographs told stories that would have remained elusive to those out of eyeball range. Ms. Lange and Mr. Rothstein, along with celebrated figures like Walker Evans and Gordon Parks, used their cameras to preserve scenes of winding bread lines, dirty-faced families in front of their ramshackle farmhouses or in jalopies with their possessions piled high, as well as the stark “colored” signs of segregated public facilities and somber black children picking cotton.