My essay was inspired by discussions in my WR 150 section about an article by Michael Carlebach in which he argued, as I later would, that the FSA photographs were both propaganda and legitimate political communication. As we discussed Carlebach’s thesis, two things struck me: first, that the question depended largely on what propaganda is to begin with, and second, that this was more something to decide (within reasonable bounds) than to discover.

I consulted a couple of dictionaries and used the information therein to form a working definition that I thought conformed to the word’s everyday use and provided clear conditions for its satisfaction. Another question emerged from the fact that my definition contained words like “information” and “deceptive,” which are associated with saying things, whereas an image cannot literally say anything. I set out to determine how photographs communicate information, and under what conditions they can be considered propaganda.

Then it remained to use historical evidence to show whether the FSA photographs met these conditions; this was the step that required the most actual research. By carefully analyzing the main points of my argument, I was able to ensure that I made a convincing case, and that my essay would have a coherent structure (since I simply had to address each issue in turn). Finally, I was enormously helped by the mandatory first draft, which forced me to think about, research, and begin writing my essay early, counteracting my strong tendencies toward laziness and procrastination and helping me produce a complete essay on time.

CHRIS MEYER is a member of the CAS class of 2011 from Boxford, Massachusetts, a Wasilla-sized town full of squirrels and trees to the north of Boston. He is studying math and philosophy, and minoring in German. He was originally in the Core Curriculum, but switched into WR 150 due to a scheduling conflict, and enrolled in the art and politics section out of interest in both and a desire to learn more about their interaction. This essay was written for Amy Chmielewski’s WR 150: Art and Politics in the Twentieth Century.