NYC Work and Working: Photographs from the WPA Federal Writers’ Project

Photographs by WPA photographers of New York City workers during the Great Depression.

Featuring: Berenice Abbott, E.M. Bofinger, Sam Brody, Andrew Herman, Dorothea Lange, Clifford Sutcliffe, James Suydam and other photographers employed by the WPA Federal Writers’ Project and Federal Art Project.

Presented by

The Municipal Archives at the NYC Department of Records and Information Services

Curated by

Michael Lorenzini & Matthew Minor


The Municipal Archives presents an exhibition drawn from a collection of more than 5,000 photographs taken or collected by the New York City Unit of the Federal Writers’ and Art Projects of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Inspired by a 1980 show curated by Barbara Millstein, later curator of photography at the Brooklyn Museum, the exhibition documents workers in New York City during the late 1930s and early 1940s: factory workers, construction workers, blacksmiths, tattoo artists, barbers, musicians, actors, garment workers, pushcart peddlers, fishmongers, teamsters, telephone operators, restaurant helpers, knife grinders, policemen, etcetera, the lifeblood of the City.

The W.P.A.—established in 1935 to address massive unemployment, hunger, and despair caused by The Great Depression—provided useful work to millions of Americans, which preserved their skills and dignity, while enriching communities throughout the country. The New York City Unit of the Federal Writers’ Project made it possible for talented photographers to document New York and its industries during this tumultuous period.

Straightforward and precise, the photographs’ appeal today stems from this forthright approach; there was no attempt to deceive or glamorize. They are images of individuals, places, occupations, and life as it was 80 years ago.


The mission of the NYC Department of Records and Information Services is to foster civic life by preserving and providing access to the historical and contemporary records of New York City government, to ensure that City records are properly maintained following professional archival and record management practices and to make materials available to diverse communities both online and in person

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