Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936. Dorothea Lange.
The Resettlement Administration, under the leadership of Rexford Tugwell, did something else for the Dust Bowl refugees. It hired photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, and Walker Evans to produce a pictorial record of the Depression's effect on the rural poor. In a 1965 interview, Mr. Tugwell explained why: "Because this was so dramatic, and because it meant misery and tragedy for so many families, and because we hoped it would never happen again, at least not in the same way, we thought we ought to have a record of it for future generations ... and also to show people who weren't involved in it how extremely serious it was."
Scroll forward to September 7th, 2005. The National Press Photographers Association had filed an official complaint based on reports (such as this one by Reuters and the Washington Post) that photographers have been systematically prevented by DHS and FEMA from taking photographs in New Orleans and other refugee sites -- even after securing permission from the people they are shooting:
NPPA Opposes Any Suggestion Of Photography Restrictions In Hurricane Katrina's Aftermath
NEW ORLEANS, LA (September 7, 2005) The National Press Photographers Association opposes any attempt whatsoever to prohibit or restrict photography and videotaping of any events, including the recovery of bodies, following Hurricane Katrina.
Photography, both still and video, is an essential form of speech and a fundamental part of the Constitutional right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
It is entirely inappropriate for a federal agency to make demands on what journalists can and cannot shoot and publish, NPPA president Alicia Wagner Calzada said today from the scene of the hurricanes aftermath in New Orleans. Calzada is a staff photojournalist for Rumbo in San Antonio, TX, and is on assignment covering Katrinas aftermath, which now includes the effort to recover bodies from homes, buildings, and outdoor areas as flood waters are pumped out of the damaged region.
How have we gone from a government that was so ashamed of how it handled the 1930s Depression that it commissioned photographers to forever sear those images into our collective memories, to one in 2005 that is so ashamed of its response that it wants to forever prevent those images from ever being made?
And some other thoughts from our friends at the Wall Street Journal:
For further reading, see my friend Gen Kanai's blog.
The ban on photography in New Orleans has been rescinded, according to CNN:
U.S. won't ban media from New Orleans searches
CNN filed suit for right to cover search for bodies of Katrina victims
HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- Rather than fight a lawsuit by CNN, the federal government abandoned its effort Saturday to prevent the media from reporting on the recovery of the dead in New Orleans.
Joint Task Force Katrina "has no plans to bar, impede or prevent news media from their news gathering and reporting activities in connection with the deceased Hurricane Katrina victim recovery efforts," said Col. Christian E. deGraff, representing the task force.
U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison issued a temporary restraining order Friday against a "zero access" policy announced earlier in the day by Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who is overseeing the federal relief effort in the city, and Terry Ebbert, the city's homeland security director.
In explaining the ban, Ebbert said, "we don't think that's proper" to let members of the media view the bodies.
Army Lt. Col. Richard Steele, a member of Honore's staff, told CNN Saturday night that Honore was partly misunderstood. Steele said Honore meant that no media would be allowed to be imbedded with teams recovering bodies. However, recovery groups would not prevent reporters from doing their jobs, he added.
"He did not say we're going to ban anybody. We're not going to restrict them from any public areas whatsoever," Steele said. "We don't have any legal recourse to do any kind of law enforcement or anything like that in our role. So the only thing we do is we can control who goes with us; on our aircraft and on our trucks and in our boats, if that applies."
However, reports from various blogs seems to indicate that citizen journalists are still encountering very hostile reactions from police and national guard troops in New Orleans as well as the other refugee sites.