Farm Service Administration (FSA) photographer Edwin Rosskam is not as widely known as some of the FSA’s other artists. However, his work (and that of his wife, Louise Rosskam) needs to be known and preserved.
Rather than waste a great deal of space detailing Rosskam’s history, I’ll let his own words speak for him :
“I was born in Germany of American parents, and therefore I’m an American citizen from birth. And I didn’t get out of Germany until after the First World War where we got caught and we were civil prisoners of war. No unpleasantness, we just couldn’t get out. I was sufficiently approaching, I was on 15, I was approaching on military age and they wouldn’t let anybody out.
“From the time of my childhood, being an enemy alien child, this is a rough situation to be in, I was kind of driven on my own resources, and I took up painting and drawing. So that when I came here, I quickly finished in high school in six months at the time, and I was learning English-and then took one year at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Then got out of there and went directly on to art school, and spent, I don’t know exactly, four years in Academy of Fine Arts.
“In Philadelphia. I was a painter. I was moderately successful in painting, showed in the major exhibits, everything from the Academy itself to the Carnegie International, and had a one man show in Paris and all that kind of junk. However, -well, maybe I should say that I also joined the Exodus of ex-Patriots in the 20’s and was very much a part of that experience which included everybody from Hemmingway over, I mean, you know-practically anybody in the United States who had any creative talents and any way of getting over there, went over there at that time-either stayed in Paris or somewhere. In that way I experienced that whole ferment even to the point where I took part in Surrealism and all of that. At that time, I was a youngster, and eventually came to the conclusion, which was sensible then, even though I had a natural facility for painting, I was not a painter.
“And at that point I got interested in photography. I then went from Paris-I had a chance to go through the sponsorship of the Museum of Anthropology in Paris in connection with the European Press Syndicates, I had a chance to go to French Polynesia. I stopped off on the way at Martinique, got interested in the West Indies, which had some bearing on all the rest of my life, and then went on there and stayed for three and a half years in Polynesia, where I did a lot of photography and a lot of writing.”
This is from an interview with Edwin and Louise, the link to which here, if you missed it above. That said, here is a collection of Rosskam’s photos from Chicago, Illinois, right around Easter 1941. Enjoy. (They are all in the public domain, so feel free to share freely.)