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Dust Bowl Descent

Migrant Mother, Florence Thompson

Dust Bowl Descent was published in 1984 by the University of Nebraska Press, 136 pages, duotone. Photos from the FSA and Bill Ganzel's contemporary photographs are coupled with oral history interviews to give an idea of what life was like during the Depression and what has happened to these people since then. To see other photographs of Florence and portions of her oral history interview click here or on the pictures above.

To hear interviews with other Dust Bowl Descent subjects, click the photographs below.
Other oral history movies from Dust Bowl Descent

Sisties Survivors Web siteTo see the demonstration Web site for our current project, Sixties Survivors, click here. In this project Bill Ganzel is tracking down some of the same people who were first photographed and profiled in LOOK Magazine during the 1960s decade.

The reviews of Dust Bowl Descent were overwhelmingly positive. Sue M. Halpern wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "Mr. Ganzel has artfully achieved his goal – 'to show what life in a particular region of the United States – the Great Plains – has been like, using photographs taken during two distinct periods of time.' … Viewed alongside the FSA photographs, and like them, Mr. Ganzel's work is acute social commentary."

In the Kansas City Star, Betsy Kline wrote, "Dust Bowl Descent is an eloquent tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity. Mr. Ganzel's focus on the Great Plains sought out [those] hardest hit by the 'double whammy of the Depression and the drought… This region gave us the really poignant symbols of the time: the dust storms and the Okies.'"

James Kaufmann called Dust Bowl Descent, "an extraordinary book" in the Christian Science Monitor. "Ganzel was wise not to attempt merely to replicate the vantage point, lens angle, and other technical considerations of the classic depression-era photos… Dust Bowl Descent is full of such simple eloquence… Ganzel puts all of his findings in context offering comments by those photographed and including historical information as necessary. But this is not a text-heavy book. It doesn't have to be, because the photographs carry the weight of Ganzel's compassionate vision."

And Peter B. Hales wrote in Afterimage, "The photographs [by Ganzel] were, and are, an affecting homage to the FSA. Rather than slavishly copying the poses, settings, and subjects of his chosen FSA pictures (many of them the 'classic' images from that archive), Ganzel sought out the people in those photographs and allowed them and himself considerable freedom to construct the final picture… The result was, and is, an engrossing one. Ganzel's energy and commitment to the task fully rewarded him. Time after time, he produced interesting pictures. Sometimes they are simply charming; sometimes they are deeply disturbing… Ganzel evidently shaped his photographs, his interviews, and his edited texts, in an attempt to overcome the great gulf between two photographed instants."

Darrel CobleLois HouleNettie FeatherstonWilliam HuravitchFritz FredrickMadge May and Bob Aden