Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hands-On Pictures Of Rural America from 1939-1943

 I just came across an amazing collection of color photography from an era in American history when life was tougher, but in a lot of ways life was much better than today:
Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 – Plog Photo Blog

The pictures found at the link above are special because they are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. I didn't even realize that color photography was around during this period in time but after a little research I was amazed to discover that the first color photograph was taken in 1861. Apparently it never took off on a massive scale since the color process was not as "convenient" as our digital photography today and certainly not as affordable. Thank goodness that someone was able to capture at least a few glimpses into the past that help us understand a time gone by.

Kodachrome color transparencies  first came onto the scene during the mid 1930's from which most of these pictures were taken. Kodachrome offered the most highly developed process for recording our world for about 74 years but unfortunately it has not been produced since 2009 with the advent of the digital age taking hold. Kodachrome 64 was my  choice for recording the events in my own life for over 27 of those years and I still have thousands of these quality color transparencies today. Digital is hard to beat these days in both value and quality so a great warrior known as Kodachrome is now gone. Kodachrome was the "digital" quality of the day and viewing these pictures can easily fool your eye into believing that they are digital... they are that clear.

Of course my favorite pictures from this rare and magnificent collection are those where the kids are making things with their hands. I have posted two lower quality prints here from that collection but you need to see them at the link provided for their full glory and vivid detail. The first picture posted above (on top) is number 29 in the collection and shows a boy building a model airplane as a girl watches in Robstown, Texas, January 1942. The other picture just above is number 42 which shows children aiming sticks as guns, lined up against a brick building. Washington, D.C.(?), between 1941 and 1942.

Pictures from my own family's  past  have been know to capture my attention for many hours at a time as I scan every detail. I especially enjoy studying the pictures of my own great-grandparents as they were during a time that I never knew, but sadly there aren't many of them. Every detail of that person and their surroundings seems to release a new clue to understanding my own past every time that I zoom into their hidden stories. All of these pictures are "black & white" which have their own charm but to see a quality color picture shows us the world more "as it was" and that's what makes the pictures in this rare 1939-1943 collection so special.

The b&w picture to the left (still no color) shows my two best friends, Scott and Van, (me in the center/9 years old) stretching out a snake for the camera. I like this picture because even in the mid-1960's when this picture was taken, most of the kids spent their days outdoors and/or in the woods and we were barefooted 99% of the time (as in the picture) during our 3-month summer vacation between grades. We'd never heard of "Air Jordans" and would have laughed at the prospect of our parents foolishly forking over $200 for a pair of shoes when we had our own feet to use. In the background can be seen laundry hanging out to dry in the sun... folks don't have time for that today because our societal priorities have been rearranged. Seems most parents now believe that it's more important for their kids to have Air Jordans on their feet while they play their video games indoors than it is to have a parent home hanging out the laundry.

All of the pictures in this collection are striking and I was amazed at how lean and tough that these people looked. Obviously they were from an era where more people lived on farms, grew or raised their own food, and had neighbors that they depended upon for their very survival. Notice that so many of the children were barefooted in the pictures and I bet they didn't feel the least bit deprived without a $200 pair of designer shoes. This was a time of mostly no running water, one room school houses, and no free meals at school. This was a proud, tough America where people provided for their own. Yes they were poor but most children from that era today would tell you that they never knew they were poor. It was a time where nearly every kid, both black and white,  came home every day to a mother and a father and that has become the exception in today's world. As one  commenter so perfectly said, "It was a Real America. Not a hypocrisy, as now."

It's great to know (and to see in living detailed color) that kids were busy using their hands to make things so many years ago. Technology is a great thing but I often wonder where you could find a group of kids like in the second picture above out playing with their sticks and play guns today? Some folks say that there is more "hope" to be found in the future but the future means nothing if we forget the past.

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