A well-to-do New Yorker, Doris Ulmann trained as an art photographer with Clarence H. White in the 1910s. In the 1920s, she began traveling to the southeastern United States to photograph rural people, particularly in the hills of Kentucky and the Sea Islands of South Carolina — people “for whom life had not been a dance.” She also documented Appalachian folk arts and crafts, working with musician and folklorist John Jacob Niles.
“Front porch. Lincoln, Vermont,” July 1940, by Louise Rosskam, via the FSA/OWI Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
The porch as a farm woman’s summertime mission control room. . .
Her broom (and 4H posters) are on the wall, and more cleaning and gardening tools are behind the chair. She has stacks of magazines (and TIME in hand). Her potted plants are doing well. Above them are fishing poles and a kite.
The cat dozes above the steps — I think the scrub board behind the broken screen is there to keep him out of the house.
The wash tub is setting on a shelf built across the angle where the two sides of the porch meet. This puzzled me until I realized that it must be there to catch rainwater from the roof.
The photographer, Louise Rosskam (1910-2003), was “one of the elusive pioneers of what has been called the golden age of documentary photography,” according to the Library of Congress.
Like many of her photos, this image was attributed for many years to her husband Edwin, who was also a photographer. At the time it was taken — as part of a series on rural Vermont — he was working as an editor for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) of the U.S. government.
Her first professional photography work had been in the mid 1930s for the Philadelphia Record. The paper would only actually hire Edwin, so he recouped her wages by including them on his expense vouchers under “gas and oil.”
The couple then produced documentary photo books on San Francisco and Washington, D.C. (but only Edwin’s name appeared on the covers). After 1939, when Edwin went to work for the FSA, Louise began to take freelance photographs. In the 40s, they both worked for Standard Oil Company.
Near the end of her life, Louise began to write to institutions like the Library of Congress correcting the credit given to Edwin for her own photos. There’s an interesting interview with her from 2000 here.