Sharecropper on Sunday, Little Rock, Ark., October 1935.

Born in Lithuania in 1898, Ben Shahn immigrated to New York with his family at the age of six.3 He was apprenticed to a commercial lithographer in 1911, and earned his living in the trade until the early 1930s, when he began to receive recognition as a fine artist. In 1934, after exhibitions of his series of paintings about the Dreyfus and Sacco-Vanzetti affairs, he was commissioned to produce a mural by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. The following year, Rexford Tugwell invited Shahn to join the Resettlement Administration. He worked as an artist in the agency's Special Skills Division and was an unofficial, part-time member of Stryker's photographic section. Shahn later told biographer Selden Rodman that his chief duty was "to explain in posters to the people who need it what is being done for them and to the others what they are paying for."

The photograph shown above is one of a group of 19 pictures made on a Sunday in a sharecroppers' community in or near Little Rock, Arkansas. Shahn used the camera to capture a sketch. "The thing that makes them memorable is their content," Shahn said. "To me, [Cartier-Bresson] is supremely the artist when he is looking for his subject. The rest is mechanical. The feeling for the subject and the ability to know just when to press the shutter--that is not mechanical."

America from the Great Depression to WWII: Black & white photographs from the FSA - OWI 1935-1945

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