Class Photo

IT’S THE BOYS AGAINST THE GIRLS

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Just another class photo you say. Not really if you understand the back story. You will note the addition of one young man in the front row with the girls as the photographer tried to keep the image in balance. But back to the story. These students are 6th graders at the Park Hill School in North Little Rock, Arkansas. “Class Photo” (January 1935). These children appear to be happy, well-fed and well-groomed at the height of the Great Depression in a state hard hit by the times. Ben Shahn was a photographer commissioned by the Farm Security Administration to document the struggle of people in America during the Depression. Shanh spent time in Arkansas photographing rural scenes. Those of us familiar with his work and other photographers who fanned out across America have images in their minds of extreme suffering and poverty associated with the Great Depression. But here with the 6th graders in North Little Rock all seems well. So even in a state admittedly singled out for documentation by the Farm Security Administration, the Depression had uneven consequences for the population depending on geography. From this photo it would seem that the suffering was unequal and that North Little Rock fared better than other communities. This should not be surprising to us as we can clearly see at the present time the unequal effects of the coronavirus on communities across our nation.