Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943
July 27, 2010 8:00 PM   Subscribe

These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations.
posted by KevinSkomsvold (83 comments total) 115 users marked this as a favorite

 
The very last image is a bit startling. I think I'll see it in my sleep tonight.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:07 PM on July 27, 2010


I love these.

The Adult Swim people used this one for a King of the Hill ad.
posted by box at 8:11 PM on July 27, 2010


More proof that foodies & hipsters are nothing new
posted by Lukenlogs at 8:13 PM on July 27, 2010


(Also, posted previously (thanks netbros).)
posted by box at 8:14 PM on July 27, 2010


These are incredible. Thank you for posting this.
posted by biscotti at 8:17 PM on July 27, 2010


These are bloody fantastic. I can't stop looking at them.
posted by Jimbob at 8:18 PM on July 27, 2010


All the people look so skinny compared to us modern Americans. And there's a hard look in most of those people's faces that you don't see too often now. I don't think that you can fake that look if you haven't lived through the poverty and wars they they did.
posted by octothorpe at 8:20 PM on July 27, 2010


Super neat. Lots of shoeless kids. These days, you'd get a visit from social services for that.
posted by wierdo at 8:23 PM on July 27, 2010


mind --> blown

thanks :)
posted by supermedusa at 8:23 PM on July 27, 2010


Awesome.

So many kids without shoes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:24 PM on July 27, 2010


The weird part for me is seeing this in color. In my mind, the Depression is always black and white, almost like people actually lived in a time before color. It makes it seem more real somehow, instead of some quaint thing in the past.
posted by contessa at 8:26 PM on July 27, 2010 [14 favorites]


Also, LOC on Flickr
posted by domographer at 8:27 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sure this same collection must have been posted here before but this is still one of the best things I've seen on the internet.
Beautiful, fascinating and comforting: the past really did happen in colour, and it happened to people who looked just like us. And so it goes.
posted by Flashman at 8:30 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


PS, the girl in #14 looks like Chloe Sevigny.
posted by contessa at 8:30 PM on July 27, 2010


Damn, they don't even look happy at a squaredance. #13 looks like a shot from "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
posted by sourwookie at 8:30 PM on July 27, 2010


Amazing. Thanks for sharing them with us!
posted by tokidoki at 8:40 PM on July 27, 2010


In my mind, the Depression is always black and white, almost like people actually lived in a time before color.

It's the same with me. I always try to imagine the colors when looking at old black and white pictures, but somehow it's always still a surprise to see that colors like mauve and salmon really did exist in the 1940s and earlier, and people actually wore clothes in those colors. Then I realize I've never looked at a black and white photograph and thought, "Ooh, poor choice wearing that monochrome jacket with those monochrome pants."

I love these pictures. Thanks for posting.
posted by Balonious Assault at 8:41 PM on July 27, 2010


Fucking amazing. People! 70 years ago! #13 is my favorite... are they in the middle of a partner change? Are they going to attack the photographer?

I also can't help but notice that the things they're eating, I guess due to poverty, are the things that southerners think of as delicacies now. Brisket, okra... looks like some kind of cobbler in 17. I've eaten many plates of food identical to #19.

I collect old photographs and yearbooks... the older the better. It never ceases to amaze me that kids have always been kids and there have always been beautiful women. At least since photography.
posted by cmoj at 8:46 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting how the day-to-day clothes are so different, yet quite a few of the work clothes look the same. The outfits of the train workers and the welder would not be out of place in today's shops.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:48 PM on July 27, 2010


I've seen the one of the shepherd on his horse, with dog, somewhere before. Still, a fantastic collection!
posted by notsnot at 8:53 PM on July 27, 2010


You can download hi-res version of all of these from the Library of Congress -- many of them would make awesome prints, and they're all in the public domain!
posted by vorfeed at 8:54 PM on July 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


These are fantastic; thank you so much for posting them.

I have to say, though: I've seen Number 22, a famous picture of the Camp Bird Mine in Ouray in 1940, and it always really pisses me off. I grew up about a hundred miles from Ouray, and I know that beautiful county well – and that mine (and the many others like it) are good lessons in the terrifying human impact on the land. See those brown and gray mounds of dust and dirt all around the quaint red building? Those are piles of tailings; they're the mixture of very fine dust and noxious chemicals that are created when various mining methods were (and are) used to extract minerals. Mining for gold may seem like an innocuous and romantic thing, especially considering that we also have old uranium mines here in Colorado, but tailings from gold mining can be just as awful; one common byproduct, for example, was arsenic.

The upshot of all this? Well, those dirt piles you see in the picture – they're still there, and they still look exactly the same. Plants can't grow there, animals die if they touch it, and these areas have to be roped off as untouchable by human beings, who could easily poison themselves and die. It's a disgustingly familiar site, these old piles of mine tailings here in Colorado; the Camp Bird Mine, for example, now looks like this. You wouldn't think that a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere in Colorado would have to get constant warnings not to play in the piles of toxic waste lying around everywhere, but you'd be wrong.

These piles were all scattered decades before nuclear weapons or fear of fallout or anything like that; even without atomic fission or grand modern factories, we'd already devised ways to spread toxic sludge. And they'll be there for another several centuries, just sitting there and leeching into the land, fouling up everything. This is our legacy of shit. And to think that some people still lobby to build mines in Colorado.

</smalltownrant>
posted by koeselitz at 9:01 PM on July 27, 2010 [18 favorites]


The weird part for me is seeing this in color.

I came here to say the same thing. It really deromanticizes the depression for me and makes me realize how much it must have sucked.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:09 PM on July 27, 2010


The pictures of Pie Town, NM and the Faro Caudill family made me wonder what became of them.

Pie Town Woman: the Hard Life and Good Times of a New Mexico Homesteader
posted by readery at 9:09 PM on July 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


koeselitz, that mine was a lead, copper, gold, zinc mine according to my husband. He worked in the mine in the mid to late 70's. There are over 5 hundred miles of mine connected, running almost all the way to Telluride.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:16 PM on July 27, 2010


(He blames the leaching on the acid rain from California.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:17 PM on July 27, 2010


Amazing photos and another piece of Americana is shared. Thanks!
posted by Upon Further Review at 9:25 PM on July 27, 2010




(He blames the leaching on the acid rain from California.)

Yeaaaaaah... no.
posted by Justinian at 9:28 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


These are great. #6 has an early version of Metafilter in it, awesome.
posted by Locobot at 9:29 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


St. Alia of the Bunnies wrote: "(He blames the leaching on the acid rain from California.)"

He should be blaming the acid leaching on both the mining companies who used various acids to extract the traces of whatever target mineral from the tailings and from mother nature, whose rock and water often makes acid when combined. Hell, she doesn't even need rock, you get a weak acid just from the combination of carbon dioxide and water.

The word I was looking for earlier but could not find: striking. This photo set is striking.
posted by wierdo at 9:32 PM on July 27, 2010


39 looks like a norman rockwell painting...
posted by Huck500 at 9:39 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am struck by how much the HBO series 'Carnevale' looked like these pictures. My late mother lived through the Great Depression and told me many stories about what it was like.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:55 PM on July 27, 2010


This should be an elementary school textbook.
posted by swift at 9:55 PM on July 27, 2010


FWIW in my home town in Oklahoma, kids still don't wear shoes most of the time.
posted by Kloryne at 10:00 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


... in summer, I mean.
posted by Kloryne at 10:01 PM on July 27, 2010


He blames the leaching on the acid rain from California

*imagines the mining boom we'd have if you could really use acid rain to extract minerals*

(even pinko Californian acid rain)
posted by pompomtom at 10:05 PM on July 27, 2010


St. Alia of the Bunnies: “koeselitz, that mine was a lead, copper, gold, zinc mine according to my husband. He worked in the mine in the mid to late 70's. There are over 5 hundred miles of mine connected, running almost all the way to Telluride.”

I don't want to derail, but yes, that mine was open until 1990. And I've driven by it hundreds of times. And it still looks the same. And there is still arsenic in the soil. And they like to say in captions that it was just a gold mine, but Camp Bird Hill was digging all kinds of stuff all over the place. As I recall, they left tailings all over the state. And yes, all the way up to Telluride, where they're quite prominent – last I heard a group of locals (who tend to have more money in Telluride than elsewhere, owing to the fact that it's a destination) was pooling resources to try to get their tailings cleaned up, although that's pretty damned unlikely. Leeching – well, that's inevitable as long as there's rain at all. I've never seen acid rain from California, though I've lived here during the most industrial epoch in the state's history, so I don't think I agree on that point. The point, really, is that mines leave piles of toxic waste around, whether they leech or not. And Colorado will be a better place when we ban mines entirely. No offense to your husband – who was barely part of the industry decades ago – but I'm a Conservative, and where I come from being a Conservative means taking care of our land and not letting these bastard corporations come in, pillage mercilessly, and leave toxic piles of crap all over the place, destroying the beautiful land we have. Colorado has never seen a single dime from all the years of mining, though the industry was always full of promises – it was an extraction operation run by folks from back East who pulled every penny out before packing up and going home (again, I don't include your husband in this, obviously). So, as a Conservative, I have to say that the day we toss the bastards out for good will be a fine, fine day.
posted by koeselitz at 10:06 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Amazing.
Kodachrome right?
posted by PHINC at 10:07 PM on July 27, 2010


This is absolutely stunning. Thank you so much for posting this.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 10:22 PM on July 27, 2010


I love how rich these are, I can practically smell them. Yes, they are Kodachrome slides. It's a shame that Kodachrome is no longer manufactured, the last processor in the world (which happens to be Dwayne's Photo in Kansas) is scheduled to stop in December 2010.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:34 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Beautiful.
posted by Forktine at 11:18 PM on July 27, 2010


I just found out that I can hold my breath for about half an hour (while scrolling down). Thanks so much.
posted by ouke at 1:49 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stunning selection. Thank you!
posted by Stan Carey at 2:24 AM on July 28, 2010


#53 Trains were big
posted by andykapahala at 2:42 AM on July 28, 2010


The plant worker at the end looks almost exactly like my dad in the 70s. All labourers must look the same after work, except this dude has his eyes open and my dad was mostly asleep on the sofa from what I remember.

Brilliant photos, thanks.
posted by shinybaum at 2:47 AM on July 28, 2010


I want the N.C. Wyeth poster in the background of this one.
posted by marxchivist at 4:02 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pie Town is an endlessly fascinating subject. I've always wanted to drive out there. Also, the Kodachrome is just beautiful.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:03 AM on July 28, 2010


i'm sitting 6 blocks from where the grand grocery used to be.
it was near the hay market area which has been renovated with some of the original
turn of the 20th century architecture now housing coffee shops bistros and galleries.
thanks
posted by rh2 at 4:03 AM on July 28, 2010


if you go to pie town, stop by the VLA. worth the trip.
posted by rh2 at 4:06 AM on July 28, 2010


In # 52, why does it say PBR is "Blended 33 to 1"?
posted by Aizkolari at 4:22 AM on July 28, 2010




The most human touchs: Flying Santa Behind Schedule and How a Tree Grows.

The two other posters in that last image are interesting two. The Red Cross one is very Soviet. (And OMG, RED cross?) The other one depicts Uncle Sam as God, which was probably widespread but somehow I never noticed it before.
posted by DU at 4:46 AM on July 28, 2010


These are incredible! It is, as someone above mentioned, very startling to see this kind of imagery in color. I somehow just assumed that everyone's clothing would be drab and grey. The little girl in the purple dress (#29) blew my fool mind.


OMG THERE IS A REAL ACTUAL PLACE CALLED PIE TOWN.
posted by elizardbits at 5:42 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aizkolari, that was part of the Pabst ad campaign. You can see it in the ad in this magazine (page 3, pdf).
"It takes 33 separate brews to make a single glass of smooth, delicious Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. Man, wait till you taste it! Such flavor, such smoothness, can only come from the blending of 33 separate brews . . . not two, or five, or ten, but 33—from 33 separate kettles.

An expensive way to brew? You bet! It's like blending champagne, coffee, or tobacco to produce the finest. The result is: America's Premium Beer... smooth as velvet . . . with a taste that's always the same. When good fellows get together — Pabst sits "at ease" with the Service."
posted by Houstonian at 5:45 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This kind of thing makes me wish my grandparents were internet savvy. Like many of you, it's so odd for me to see images of that time in color - but to my grandmother, these images are her memories. There's such a generational disconnect there.
posted by something something at 6:26 AM on July 28, 2010


Leighton Meester, time traveller
posted by aiglet at 6:27 AM on July 28, 2010


I've seen some of these before, but they are just amazing every time. Also fascinating are Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii's color photos from early 20th century Russia, each taken using three separate color-filtered negatives.
posted by usonian at 7:00 AM on July 28, 2010


Holy Crap. Several of the shots from the Flickr feed are of my hometown, Campton, KY. I was just there two weeks ago duplicated this photo exactly in 2010. If I can upload it later, I'll post a link, if it's not too self-posty for the mods.
posted by Mcable at 7:13 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]




These are extraordinary, thanks! What blows my mind even more than the color is how many things have not changed - #43, Shulman's Market, looks exactly the same as any small bodega in DC or Baltimore today. Although the color, yeah, the color is just startling as hell.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:31 AM on July 28, 2010


#33, African Americans celebrating the 4th of July...

I couldn't help but find this picture a little tragic.

Thanks for sharing these.
posted by dry white toast at 7:47 AM on July 28, 2010


In my mind, the Depression is always black and white, almost like people actually lived in a time before color.

Funny you should mention that...
posted by Evilspork at 7:55 AM on July 28, 2010


And to think that some people still lobby to build mines in Colorado.

Nah, we need to keep the mines in third world countries where the environmental destruction that sustains our lifestyle isn't our problem. Welcome to Colorful Colorado!
posted by 6550 at 7:59 AM on July 28, 2010


From the LoC website, this has always been one of my favorite photos and was a background on my monitor for a while: Half a dozen houses with neat, green walled-in lawns, stark black slopes on either side, in the middle of a desolate, black landscape of rock and industry. It's a kind of juxtaposition that, these days, I would expect in documentary photos of modern China rather than the U.S.
posted by ardgedee at 8:03 AM on July 28, 2010


the day we toss the bastards out for good will be a fine, fine day.

Yep, those mines were run by Back Easterners. Who were rather fond of shutting down mines and putting miners out of work before Christmas, and other such lovely gestures. (Ralph's childhood was affected by this as his dad also worked the mines.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:22 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


oneirodynia, Dwayne's has already stopped Kodachrome processing. Truly a sad moment in history.
posted by tommasz at 8:53 AM on July 28, 2010


Thanks for the link. These pics are beautiful.
Some of them have a pink color shift, so I tried to "reverse" it.
Original version
Corrected version
posted by elgilito at 10:08 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wowee. Links like this are why I cruise Metafilter.
posted by gnossie at 10:22 AM on July 28, 2010


Wow. I am going to come back to these pictures over and over and over. The color!
posted by ChuraChura at 10:23 AM on July 28, 2010


One of the things that struck me here - simply because of personal experience - is the changed appearance of peach varieties. Then, yellow; now, red as they can get 'em. People think redness indicates ripeness in peaches and nectarines; it doesn't. It varies by variety and is basically the peach equivalent of a suntan.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:44 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Something about the way the boys have their hands in their pockets in a lot of photos... I can't put my finger on exactly why, but like other aspects of the photos [eg. the overalls are cute] it just seems to fit that era.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:51 AM on July 28, 2010


If I can upload it later, I'll post a link, if it's not too self-posty for the mods.

It is perfectly fine to post a self-link inside the comments of a thread. Please do so.
posted by odinsdream at 11:11 AM on July 28, 2010


I can't put my finger on exactly why

OK, had a bit of a think while I was waiting for my computer to do something and I think I've got it.

Their pockets are so deep and spacious that they don't give any support to their arms. Their elbows aren't as bent when compared to putting hands in the tighter pockets of modern day pants[?].

That, and "kids nowadays" would probably have their hands busy, fiddling with a phone or holding an mp3 player or embracing their homie or busting some sort of silly gang sign.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:32 AM on July 28, 2010


oneirodynia, Dwayne's has already stopped Kodachrome processing. Truly a sad moment in history.

That just happens to be the last roll of Kodachrome manufactured. If anyone shoots or finds a roll, they've still got 'til December to have it processed (from your link):

As Kodachrome is no longer manufactured, Steinle said that on Dec. 10 Dwayne's Photo will end its processing of Kodachrome.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:20 PM on July 28, 2010


#16

The Whinery Children: The boys: Oldest boy is A.J. Whinery, baby boy is Lawrence Whinery.
The girls: Oldest girl is Laura Whinery, Wanda Whinery is in white, and Velva Whinery is in pink. Velva's middle name is Mae, and her obituary is here. It says she was born in Adrin, TX, Lawrence and Wanda passed away before Velva, and as far as I know Laura and A.J are still alive. At the time of Velva's passing, Laura lived in Clifton, CO with the married name Murray,
posted by A189Nut at 2:38 PM on July 28, 2010


I just came back from Mali, my first experience of a really poor country (I'm middle class Irish in Ireland). Looking at these wonderful pictures, I had an experience most probably don't. I was struck by how prosperous everyone was. Gaunt, determined, beautiful, but ultimately, prosperous.

#38 is a lonely gas station/multi-functional kinda place. Compared with a similarly "make-do" joint in Mali, there is much more targeted advertising. Those ads are meant to be there. In Mali, there would be s similar preponderance of messages, but it would be far more haphazard. Much from reused trash, which introduces an element of randomness into advertising.

Wonderful post. Thank you!
posted by stonepharisee at 2:40 PM on July 28, 2010


The clothes. Why don't we dress like that anymore*? Hats and great big coats and crisp blue denim jeans and patterned shirts and dresses, and the lovely little leather shoes on the girls and the overalls on the boys. So pleasant to admire.

*I know why, and that some people still do. Shh.
posted by saturnine at 4:29 PM on July 28, 2010


These are amazing. Thanks, KevinSkomsvold.
posted by homunculus at 8:27 PM on July 28, 2010


I remember running across these 6 years ago and agree, they are stunning, and the collection is well worth perusing, though you'll lose hours and hours to them, most likely. It's almost spooky to see a world you think of only in black-and-white terms reproduced in such accurate color prints.

From a blog entry I made all those years ago about these color photos:

What is interesting though, is how photographs give us a sort of pseudo-memory of events that we have never seen. Their power is evident in how we perceive historical time periods and events. When you see the phrase ‘World War II,’ or ‘1938,’ the images that pop into your head are usually black and white. Interesting, no? But when Rome, or the Middle Ages are brought up, the images that come to mind are generally color in nature. It seems an odd trick at first, but makes sense when thought about. Our mind’s eye images of periods long ago are generally influenced, or even defined by, old paintings of historical scenes. But then came photography, which singlehandedly replaced the painting as a means of recording moments in time. So all our pseudo-memories of historical events and daily life suddenly go black and white around 1850, and stay that way for the next hundred years.

That was what I ended up putting my finger on as the most startling thing about these photos for those of us with no actual memories of the time period. For me, at least, paintings and photos of a specific time period are what my brain uses to conjure up further imagery when I'm imagining some event from long ago.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 9:55 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


These are amazing. I love the photo of the Shasta dam under construction.
posted by neushoorn at 12:27 AM on July 29, 2010


I think this is the best metafilter link ever. Those photos are so beautiful, and they take you right back, yet at the same time without false sentimentality
posted by maiamaia at 5:10 AM on August 1, 2010




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