San Antonio, Texas, Privy and Water Supply in the Mexican District, 1939, Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 18 in.

Mills College Art Museum Collection, Gift of Susan Herzig and Paul M. Hertzmann, 2003.29.6

As a documentary photographer, Russell Lee took a special interest in disadvantaged and neglected communities. This image, taken at the tail end of the Great Depression, emphasizes the unsanitary and dangerous conditions many people were forced into through poverty, evidenced by the drinking water supply being placed right next to the outhouse, with no separation or distinction. Many of Lee’s photographs from the Mexican quarter of San Antonio depict similar situations of squalor and lack of support. These photographs were taken for the use of the Farm Security Administration, which was created by the New Deal in 1937 to combat rural poverty and help support very poor land-owning farmers. This piece displays the need for assistance in rural areas populated mostly by Mexican migrant workers, many of whom worked for those the FSA intended to support.

Sydney Pearce