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The Big Ol' Picture
March 13, 2009 8:36 AM   Subscribe

14 large color photos from the Farm Security Administration.

"The 1600 color photographs of the Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Collection include scenes of rural and small-town life, migrant labor, and the effects of the Great Depression. A significant number of the color photographs concern the mobilization effort for World War II and portray aircraft manufacturing, military training, and the nation's railroads. Browse by subject, photographer or geographic location. (Previously)
posted by Happy Dave (32 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whoa, those photos are really well done. How do I get my expensive Canon to do this?!
posted by geoff. at 8:43 AM on March 13, 2009


Wow, beautiful. Now I want the railwayman hexagon glasses
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:44 AM on March 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


god i love kodachrome
posted by youthenrage at 8:44 AM on March 13, 2009


how come those photos in the first link don't look old-timey? they look like contemporary photos of people on an old timey set. yet it seems like generally when i see old photos they look like old photos. what's up with that?
posted by snofoam at 8:46 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Snofoam, I think it's something to do with the larger size and the lighting. But agreed, some of them looked incredibly contemporary to me.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:52 AM on March 13, 2009


This is fantastic. Thanks, Happy Dave!
posted by xbonesgt at 8:54 AM on March 13, 2009


This is pretty much a double. (also) (also)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:55 AM on March 13, 2009


Horace don't you have two eyes and a heart?
posted by geoff. at 9:00 AM on March 13, 2009


I wonder what it takes to turn these into a digital medium and how they get them to look so good. What kind of ridiculous resolution scanner do you need to do this???
posted by Big_B at 9:01 AM on March 13, 2009


Issues of duplicativeness aside, it's an interesting post. But I cavil with the photography. That stagy kind of social realism sets my teeth on edge.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:04 AM on March 13, 2009


They've gotta be Kodachrome slides to have aged so well. That stuff is almost as permanent as black and white film. Looks like they've done some high-resolution film scans, and a good job of color correction in Photoshop. Beautiful! Sometimes we get so used to seeing washed out or colorless old photos, we forget that the world basically looked the same then as it does now.
posted by scose at 9:11 AM on March 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Pure awesomeness, Happy Dave. And Horace: don't be a dink. Bad boy!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:25 AM on March 13, 2009


Beautiful photos. It's time for the 40s to be re-invented and re-appreciated. Those octagonal glasses are indeed awesome.

What kind of ridiculous resolution scanner do you need to do this???

For web presentation? Just 100 DPI. What's much more important is colour control. But really what's coming through is the photos themselves are fantastic.
posted by Nelson at 9:30 AM on March 13, 2009


Hey, no need to get personal. I'm not saying this isn't awesome, just that we have explored its awesomeness before. This is not 'Nam, people, there are rules!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:32 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nelson: on the "browse" links there are 150MB tiffs.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:33 AM on March 13, 2009


They've gotta be Kodachrome slides to have aged so well...

Very probably, since Kodachrome was introduced in 1935. Kodachrome rules. I'm betting these were large-format shots, too. Maybe 4x5. That makes all the difference...a good large-format camera and film.

It's kind of funny to read so many "how'd they get this stuff looking so good?" comments. As if the only path to image perfection is via digital cameras and Photoshop.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:58 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


something like this could make those tiffs.
posted by scose at 9:59 AM on March 13, 2009


I wonder what it takes to turn these into a digital medium and how they get them to look so good. What kind of ridiculous resolution scanner do you need to do this???

At 4000 dpi, you can see the film grain in Kodachrome 200 before you can see the pixels. a 35mm slide is about 55 megabytes. not so sure about larger format cameras. Probably 500 mb or so per image, at most. There are also some nice color correction algorithms out there that take into account how film ages over time. I've had pretty good success with some 20-30 year old E6 slide film that was pretty faded.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:04 AM on March 13, 2009


Many of theses seem staged. The honesty of the more familiar black and white photos is somehow missing here. Given that there are a few standouts that are real photojournalism. The shot of the Pennsylvania ship workers showing black and white workers side by side for example shows the changes required by the war effort. Only a year earlier Mobile, Alabama yard workers rioted when Blacks were employed as welders.
posted by Gungho at 10:07 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Side note -- Kodachrome is good for more or less 100 years, stored properly, color wise, as opposed to stuff like Fugifilm, or Ektachrome, which is good for 20 years, tops. I pretty much only shot Kodachrome on cave trips before I went digital, for archival reasons. Lord knows when anyone might get back in to some caves, so documentation can be important, at times. As my older slides are beginning to hit the 20-year mark, I'm glad i did this, as I have only a slight minority of them scanned, yet.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:13 AM on March 13, 2009


That stagy kind of social realism sets my teeth on edge.

May your teeth be set on edge in perpetuity. I love this stuff. It represents a day-in-the-life at a point when we were first able to really capture it -- fast enough exposure times that everyone didn't have to stand stock-still, and hey, COLOR!
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:15 AM on March 13, 2009


Nthing the loveliness of film when used well. I doubt my 5D/50mm prime could produce prints quite as nice as these could, which is saying a lot given the 70-year head start it has over Kodachrome. Dynamic range is a big part of it - Kodachrome has a huge dynamic range and it still crushes anything digital, and the colour saturation is very strong without blowing any particular channel. Having said that, the lighting is also excellent here and a lot of time and care went into every shutter depression given the undoubtedly obscene price of each slide in 1940.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:10 AM on March 13, 2009


These are wonderful - thank you for the post. I'm with snofoam, though - I'd have guessed they were stills from recent movies set in the 30s and 40s, not vintage photographs.

I love the "heroic worker" feel of the portraits, which is so characteristic of the era of Woody Guthrie and the Wobblies. Even modern photos of blue-collar workers, like the guys who salvaged the plane that ditched in the Hudson, immediately evoke those years for me. I don't know if modern photographers do certain things deliberately to create this feel or if it's just a really strong association in my brain, but it seems like they're paying homage to the earlier style. It's kind of like the "78 crackle" - you hear that and you're instantly transported 60 years into the past. Love the involuntary nostalgia!
posted by Quietgal at 11:11 AM on March 13, 2009


Amazing photographs. They really had photo chops back then, and great equipment.
If anyone who enjoyed these hasn't seen Shorpy, check it out. There are lots of early Kodachromes over there.
posted by JBennett at 11:50 AM on March 13, 2009


Here is Shorpy's 4x5 kodachrome collection. They do a great job of cleaning up the old slides for the web.
posted by JBennett at 11:57 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Made my day. Thanks for posting.
posted by alexwoods at 1:18 PM on March 13, 2009


The thing that strikes me most about these is hats! Seeing a hat on a person today often takes me aback because it seems out of place, and very much makes me think slightly negative things about their affectation of hattedness. Not that hats are inherently bad or weird, but you just don't see them much so if I see someone wearing one it always seems like A Statement. Seeing these gave me something of the same feeling even though, of course, wearing hats was perfectly normal then. Interesting how things become ingrained in your subconscious.

The other thing that strikes me is the awkward little girl dresses. My grandmother made my clothes when I was young, and she clearly based some of them on things she'd worn at that age. Very familiar, especially the girl in the middle in the first picture, with the rounded collar and those puffy little sleeves.
posted by marginaliana at 1:42 PM on March 13, 2009


"They've gotta be Kodachrome slides to have aged so well. That stuff is almost as permanent as black and white film."

Mostly because it basically is three layers of black and white film.
posted by Mitheral at 7:41 PM on March 13, 2009


I'm slow, but I have a few questions.

1. My first reaction was: this color correction is BEAUTIFUL. A few comments have attested to color correction, I looked through Shorpy and LOC but didn't see any specifics. Have these been individually color adjusted or maybe sent through an algorithm?

2. Is there any way to determine what format or stock is used for each photo?
posted by headless at 3:49 AM on March 14, 2009


Nice. The comtemporary grain of the photos makes the racist segregation in this one feel pretty stark.
posted by dydecker at 4:09 AM on March 14, 2009


Why would you say segregation? Because most of the Blacks are in one line? This shows a heck of a lot more about integration than segregation. Reference the Mobile riots.
http://www.jstor.org/pss/2080410
posted by Gungho at 8:54 AM on March 15, 2009


2. Is there any way to determine what format or stock is used for each photo?

I downloaded one of the uncmopressed originals, and it hadn't been cropped. In the black border, It clearly says KODAK (backwards) at the top of the film, and the image measured 4.5 x 5.5 inches, I think, (The file is on my desktop at work so I can't get to it right now) at 1800 DPI. I didn't detect much film grain in the one I downloaded, but there was still some dust specks. It looks like they'd run a tiny bit of noise filter of some sort on it, and maybe sharpened it a hair. I had been minimally processed, from what I could tell, compared to my own experiences with scanning Kodachrome 35 mm slides, but it had been cleaned up a little.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:09 AM on March 15, 2009


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