Since I was first exposed to Depression-era photography as a teenager, I desired to revisit a place that had been documented by a Farm Security Administration photographer and make a visual record of what had become of it. This project would combine my loves of American history, photography and travel. But of all the places FSA photographers visited, where to go?
When I saw color pictures that Russell Lee, an FSA photographer, had made of homesteaders living like 19th century pioneers in Pie Town, New Mexico, I had my destination. Lee didn’t just photograph the homesteaders. He saw them. With his camera he declared, “You matter.”
While working in Pie Town, I imagined myself as an FSA photographer documenting what had become of the “pioneer spirit” that so impressed Lee. What emerged evokes what William Faulkner wrote, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”
In making these photographs, I made a connection with a community. At the beginning of this project its members were strangers. Through an accumulation of small acts that spoke volumes, they became friends. Their collective appreciation of the work made me hope that just like Russell Lee, I had declared with my camera, “You matter.”
Roy Stryker, the head of the FSA photo unit, said that the goal of FSA photography was to “introduce America to Americans.” In doing so, the pictures would help unite citizens despite their differences. That goal resonates in our polarized times. In this spirit, I introduce to you a few Americans and the place they call home, Pie Town.