early 1940s was a time of turmoil throughout America. World War II
was calling young men and women to battlefields and cities far away.
Mid-America and the world would never be the same again. One young
couple on the move was Cliff and Vi Edom. Cliff was 34 when the war
began, and because he had a wife and child, he was not asked to bear
arms. Instead, he was drafted, so to speak, by the Missouri School
of Journalism to make engravings for its student paper, the Columbia
Missourian, and to teach a course in photography.
Although Cliff had taught photo workshops for weekly newspaper
editors, he had no formal training in the field. He had no college
education either, so, to keep his new job, during the next few years
Cliff would earn a bachelor's degree while working full -time at
At this same time, he and Vi also would create three of our profession's
most influential and durable educational programs -- the Pictures
of the Year contest, the College Photographer of the Year contest
and the Missouri Photo Workshop. Edom first got the idea for the
workshop from a book published in1940 by Sherwood Anderson called
Home Town: The Face of America. In it were images of rural
America taken by some of our nation's most dedicated photographers
working for the Farm Security Administration under the direction
of Roy Stryker. These photos portrayed a way of life that has become
synonymous with the Missouri Photo Workshop.
and FSA photographer Russell Lee worked closely with Edom in the
creation of the Workshop and served as faculty members during its
early years. The first Workshop was set in Columbia, Missouri. It
was an unpretentious, modest effort to provide a group of twenty-three
photographers access to the life of this small Missouri college
town for the purpose of honing and developing their photojournalistic
Five staff members were drawn from the top echelon of photojournalism.
Stryker led the staff that included two photographers, Rus Arnold
and Harold Corsini, and two top picture editors, one from a newspaper
and one from a magazine: Stan Kalish of the Milwaukee Journal and
John Morris of the Ladies' Home Journal.
Since it began, the workshop has immersed itself in these small
towns teaching journalists about universal themes of human nature
and cultural interdependence through documentary photography. Literally
thousands have shared this experience. Many have gone on to raise
journalistic standards in publications throughout the world. Some
have returned as Workshop faculty members to enthuse new generations
about the traditions that inspired Cliff and Vi Edom.