Edward Steichen


Rural America Seen by the Photographers
of the Farm Security Administration

Dorothea Lange, Route 54, au nord d'El Pases, Texas Library of Congress

The Bitter Years at the Waassertuerm Gallery

The Bitter Years is the last exhibition famous photographer Edward Steichen curated as the Director of the Photography Department of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. It is a testimony to documentary photography, featuring over 200 images from one of the largest collective projects in the history of photography: the documentation of rural America during the Great Depression by the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

Fifty years after its opening at MoMA, The Bitter Years has now found a permanent home in Dudelange, Luxembourg, on the site of a former steel mill, in the stunning Waassertuerm gallery, an old water tower, next to the Centre national de l'audiovisuel (CNA).

Wishing to create a lively platform for discussion and creation around the heritage collection, the CNA combines Steichen's selection of FSA images with temporary photographic exhibitions shown at Pomhouse, the former pumping station adjacent to the water tower. Waassertuerm and Pomhouse thus form a space of dialogue bewteen the historic collection and contemporary image making.

Plan Your Visit


We are currently working on a new presentation of the collection "The Bitter Years" that is not visible at the moment.
Reopening of the collection on July 21st 2016.

To discover at the Waassertuerm+Pomhouse: the exhibition PERIGEE by Paul Gaffney.
More information

Contact us:


1b, rue du Centenaire
L-3475 Dudelange


How to find us:

Romain Girtgen, 2013

A historic undertaking

Within the Farm Security Administration, a historical section is documenting the appalling situation in rural America with the help of a group of photographers. This documentary mission is headed by Roy Stryker, an economist from Columbia University in New York. Over eight years, from 1935 to 1943, the group produces over 250.000 negatives and prints that become emblematic for the Great Depression in the United States.

The FSA file is unique in the history of photography: not only is it the first time that photography is used in such a systematic way to establish an inventory of a situation, but this "great visual encyclopedia of America" is also the largest collective photographic project undertaken by a government administration.

Dorothea Lange, 1938

Dorothea Lange, 1939

Arthur Rothstein, 1937

Edward Steichen & the FSA Photographs

Edward Steichen discovers the Farm Security Administration images in 1938 at the First International Photographic Exhibition in New York's Grand Central Palace. He is fascinated by these images and their capacity to tell a story and trigger emotions. He presents a first selection of the FSA photographs in the prestigious publication US Camera Annual in 1939. He also includes comments from visitors at the 1938 exhibition whose opinions widely differ as they discern communist propaganda as well a shattering account of reality.

For Steichen they are "the most remarkable human documents ever rendered in images". They will stay with him for the rest of his career. They will be the focus of his last exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1962.

US Camera Annual

US Camera Annual

US Camera Annual

The FSA Photographers

Roy Stryker himself is not a photographer but he works with a talented team that he sends out on missions throughout the country with closely defined scripts. This team is renowned for its collective work, but also for the individual contributions of each of its photographers. Famous "authors" as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee or Arthur Rothstein are part of the FSA mission.

From 1935 to 1943 they travel the breadth and width of their country, documenting the rural exodus and the fate of migrant workers in California as well as the daily life in remote parts of the US or monuments and road signs. As a whole, the FSA file constitutes a compelling image collection which has marked the collective visual memory of the Great Depression.

Dorothea Lange, 1937

Dorothea lange, 1937

Walker Evans, 1935 or 1936

Arthur Rothstein, 1937

Dorothea Lange, 1937

Arthur Rothstein, 1937

The Bitter Years 1962

For The Bitter Years, Edward Steichen selects some of the most iconic but also the most desperate images from the FSA file, corresponding to the initial goal of the mission: to document and illustrate poverty in order to trigger compassion for the represented subjects, the future beneficiaries of the government programs established by Franklin Roosevelt. At the same time, Steichen depicts courageous, even heroic people through a dramatic scenography and lay out of images, using museum walls similarly to magazine pages.

Steichen wishes for a continuous documentation of the United States and its people. This wish will remain unfulfilled.

Dorothea Lange, 1938

Carl Mydans, 1936

Restoration & Conservation

The Bitter Years first travels the United States and then also Europe. As the exhibition comes to the end of its journey in 1967, Edward Steichen expresses the wish to see it sent to Luxembourg, his native country, so it can be preserved for the future and shown here. Shortly after their arrival in Luxembourg, the photographs are exhibited in 1968 by the State Museum. Later they will join the collections of the Centre national de l'audiovisuel (CNA) created in 1989 with the mission to preserve and to promote the national film, photography and sound heritage.

At the CNA, the totality of the exhibition artifacts have been digitized, then carefully restored by the expert Sandra Petrillo. Delicate objects, rendered fragile by time and the strains of travel, the photographs mounted directly onto hardwood boards are conserved in archival boxes in the controlled environment of the CNA archive.

Romain Girtgen

Romain Girtgen

Romain Girtgen

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