Friday, December 16, 2005

Bound for Glory: The Depression Era in Color

Vicinity of Natchitoches, Louisiana, August 1940
Reproduction from color slide

When I think of the Depression Era, I first think of my parents, who are Depression babies. I know from them that it was an incredibly difficult time in our nation's history, and I'm not quite sure how our citizens now would deal with such a crappy economic downfall. Let's hope it never gets to that point again.

I was watching CNN today (home sick from work today, and also have to get ready for my performance in tonight's "Dick Cheney Holiday Spectacular"), and saw a piece about a fascinating new online-only exhibit at the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress (LOC) of the United States is an amazing place. They are the nation's repository of its own history (along with the National Archives and Records Administration or NARA), and have such a vast collection of books that I hear tales of books piled high on the floors because they can't keep up with the decades-old backlog of books that are deposited at the LOC.

They have a fascinating 'new' collection of materials, a set of over 1600 color slides, "Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939-1943."

Here's what their front page says:

Bound for Glory: America in Color is the first major exhibition of the little known color images taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI). Comprised of seventy digital prints made from color transparencies taken between 1939 and 1943, this exhibition reveals a surprisingly vibrant world that has typically been viewed only through black-and-white images. These vivid scenes and portraits capture the effects of the Depression on America's rural and small town populations, the nation's subsequent economic recovery and industrial growth, and the country's great mobilization for World War II.

The photographs in Bound for Glory, many by famed photographers such as John Vachon, Jack Delano, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott, document not only the subjects in the pictures, but also the dawn of a new era -- the Kodachrome era. These colorful images mark a historic divide in visual presentation between the monochrome world of the pre-modern age and the brilliant hues of the present. They change the way we look -- and think about -- our past.

Take a look. I love black and white photographs, but these color photos of an era that we only know of through the brown dust of the prairie and from stories told by our parents or grandparents, really open the eyes to a time gone by... and a time one hopes will never return...

Brockton, Massachusetts, December 1940
Reproduction from color slide

And by the way, my mother was born and raised in Putnam County, Georgia... her family sharecropped... this is what it might have looked like:

White Plains, Greene County, Georgia, June 1941

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