In the depths of the Great Depression, the United States government created the Resettlement Administration to help provide relief for drought-stricken and impoverished farmers. The RA was restructured and renamed the Farm Security Administration in 1937.
One of the FSA’s most notable efforts was its small team of documentary photographers, who traveled the country recording the living conditions of Americans. Directed by Roy Stryker, the photographers included now-legendary documentarians Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks and Russell Lee, among others.
In 1936, 21-year-old Minnesotan John Felix Vachon got a job with the FSA as an assistant messenger while attending the Catholic University of America. He had no previous interest in photography, but his constant immersion in the work of the FSA photographers motivated him to try his own hand at shooting.
He started out by wandering around Washington with a Leica camera, and soon received training, equipment and encouragement from Stryker, Evans and other FSA photographers. By 1938, he was shooting solo assignments.
Here, the still-green photographer explores the streets of Chicago in 1941, capturing images of city life in photos that are sometimes distant and unobtrusive, but often sharply observant and quietly funny.
(Photos by John Vachon)