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April 30, 2021

Photographs of a Family of Nine Living in Field on U.S. Route 70 Near the Tennessee River During the Depression, 1936

A native of Boston, Carl Mydans (1907–2004) was born into a family of second-generation Russian immigrants. He studied journalism at Boston University, where he first learned how to take and develop photographs. After he graduated in 1930, he found work as a reporter for American Banker, but eventually bought a 35-millimeter Contax camera. The Contax was small, and enabled its carrier to easily roam about and take photos with a minimum of advance preparation. He quickly mastered the camera, and began to sell his work to Time and other magazines.

In 1935, Mydans was hired as a photographer with a U.S. federal agency called the Resettlement Administration, which later became the Farm Security Administration. He traveled throughout New England and the South, documenting the failed end of a rural-based economy, and gained a reputation for his images of bedraggled Arkansas farmers and their families. It was the Great Depression, and the poorest of America’s poor were devastated by the economic downturn.

These pictures, of a Tennessee family of nine living in a hut built on an abandoned truck chassis, portray the misery of the times as starkly as any photographs by his more celebrated contemporaries in the FSA.

Resettlement Administration official investigating the case of nine living in field on U.S. Route 70 between Camden and Bruceton, Tennessee, near the Tennessee River. March 1936.

Family of nine living in open field in rough board covering built on old Ford truck chassis on U.S. Route 70, between Bruceton and Camden, Tennessee. Their water supply was an open creek running near highway.

Mother and father of a family of nine living in open field in rough board covering built on old Ford chassis on U.S. Route 70, between Bruceton and Camden, Tennessee.

Mother and baby of family of nine living in field on U.S. Route 70 in Tennessee, near Tennessee River.

Mother and baby of family of nine living in field on U.S. Route 70 in Tennessee, near Tennessee River.

Twelve-year old girl of family of nine living in one-room hut built over the chassis of abandoned Ford truck in open field on U.S. Route 70 between Camden and Bruceton, Tennessee. View also shows one of the small boys in family; the girl is dressed in a meal sack.

Oldest boy of family of nine, seventeen years old, claims two years schooling; living with his family in open field, on U.S. Route 70 between Camden and Bruceton, Tennessee.

Three of the family of nine living in field in rough board covering built on old Ford truck chassis on U.S. Route 70, between Camden and Bruceton, Tennessee.

Twelve-year old girl of family of nine, cooking meal in rude, open lean-to near hut, Tennessee.

Interior of wood shack built upon Ford truck chassis housing father, mother and seven children. This view shows the mother and two of her children.

One-room hut housing family of nine built over chassis of abandoned Ford in open field between Camden and Bruceton, Tennessee, near Tennessee River.

This one-room hut built of rough lumber over the chassis of an abandoned Ford truck was the housing provided by a landlord for an illiterate wood-cutter, with a wife and seven children. Found on U.S. Route 70 between Camden and Bruceton, Tennessee, near Tennessee River. Family of nine lived and slept in this shack.

(Photos by Carl Mydans)




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