In May 1939, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), assigned Charles Foster, a WPA artist and photographer, to take photographs for Florida Writers Project writer Veronica Huss' profile of the "Conchs" of Riviera Beach, Florida. Armed with his Reflex-Korelle single-lens camera and 4-rolls of 12 exposure black and white film, Foster spent the day photographing Veronica and her subjects - immigrants from the Bahamas, whom the locals derisively referred to as Conchs.
Huss planned to publish the book as "Conch Town," and use Foster's images as illustrations. However, WPA supervisors in Washington chose instead to illustrate the book with sketches based on the photographs, but then decided not to publish at all. While the recordings and transcriptions of the Conch's tales and songs that Huss collected (with assistance from folklorist Stetson Kennedy) were eventually archived at the Library of Congress, Foster had other plans for the photographs. He selected thirty out of a total of forty-eight images, wrote captions for them, and created a traveling photographic exhibit for the WPA's Florida Art Project, also called "Conch Town," that was displayed across the state and the nation between 1939 and 1943.
Huss, who was born in Fort Scott, Kansas and grew up in LaBelle, Florida, was 18 when she joined the WPA in 1935. With ambitions to be a published author, she took on many writing projects for the FWP. After the failure to publish Conch Town, Huss worked for the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville for many years. Due to a serious illness, she moved in with her sister in West Palm Beach, where she died on November 29, 1971.
Foster, born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1913, was an aspiring artist when the Great Depression struck the Sunshine State. He joined the WPA after first working as an artist for a short period with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Alabama. He resigned from the WPA in 1939 to work as an advertising artist and later taught commercial art for the National Youth Administration's Camp Roosevelt in Ocala. (Most of the images of Camp Roosevelt in the Florida Photographic Collection were created by Foster during this time.) After years working in commercial art, Foster finally published his Riviera Beach photographs, along with Huss' research, in 1991 as Conchtown, USA.
Foster, Charles C. Conchtown, USA: Bahamian Fisherfolk in Riviera Beach, Florida (Gainesville; University Press of Florida, 1991)
Charles Foster Oral History (interviewed by Rachel Howard and Alison Mitchell on September 20, 2000), AFC 2000/010, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress