The Sioux by John Vachon, 1955

John Vachon, a taciturn, brooding, hard-drinking photographer, traveled around America and around the world for nearly forty years taking photos first for Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later for LOOK magazine. He had come to photography almost by accident: being forced to leave school because of his drinking, he found a job as an assistant messenger at the FSA and soon began taking photos documenting difficult living conditions in rural America.

Look magazine continued the work of the FSA and its successor, the Office of War Information (OWI). Almost from the start, the Look photography department was run by Arthur Rothstein, one of the first photographers to be hired for the FSA. It was he who hired Vachon for Look in 1947 —and who perpetuated a distinctly FSA/OWI approach to photography: focusing on a wide sociological range of subjects, and looking hard and deep at both subject and context.

Over the next 23 years, until the magazine folded, Vachon averaged eight trips a year for the magazine to produce an estimated 175 stories for Look (over two thousand published photos). He went from the Dakotas to the Antarctic, from a Boston slum to a Canadian retreat for Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, from a snowbound family in Montana to Oppenheimer at home in Princeton and Tibetans in a refugee camp in Assam.

The story below, about the plight of the Sioux in South Dakota that Vachon covered with Thomas B. Morgan for April 19, 1955 issue of Look, returned him to a familiar terrain. As a FSA photographer, Vachon had extensively travelled in the Dakotas and Nebraska, photographing the Native American reservations at Lake Travese, Pine Ridge and Rosebud.

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10 thoughts on “The Sioux by John Vachon, 1955

  1. I loved even more than you will get done right here. The picture is nice, and your writing is stylish, but you seem to be rushing through it, and I think you should give it again soon. I’ll probably do that again and again if you protect this hike.

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