Depression Era Color Photography

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By JOBY Inc on

Just the other day on my walk home from the office, I was listening to an old episode of This American Life. The theme of the episode was “Who do you think you are” and discussed the ever-present conflict between those who have and those who have not. Act One featured snippets of interviews by the great reporter Studs Terkel, who recorded oral histories of ordinary Americans for the majority of his career in radio. In this particular collection, people reflected on their experiences during the Great Depression. For me, the frankness of these interviews was eye-opening.

Children in the tenement district. Brockton, Massachusetts, December 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Because of these stories, I’ve had Depression Era America on the brain and decided to poke around the internet for some photographs. During the 30s and 40s, the Farm Security Administration had a team of photographers who documented the lives of ordinary Americans and the effects of the Depression on their lives. Over 175,000 photographs were taken, and while the majority of them are black and white, some were shot on color transparency film. These color photographs were organized into an exhibit in 2006. They are beautiful and capture a side of the Depression that I’ve never seen before.

Chopping cotton on rented land near White Plains. White Plains, Greene County, Georgia, June 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

If you have some time, listen to the piece by Terkel and browse the photographs. All photos are property of the Library of Congress and on their site you can browse the entire FSA collection, the entire color collection or the top 15 requested prints. You can even request prints for yourself! The photos are public domain, after all. Meanwhile, enjoy this incredible collection of photographs.

Backstage at the "girlie" show at the state fair. Rutland, Vermont, September 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Children asleep on bed during square dance. McIntosh County, Oklahoma, 1939 or 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Faro Caudill family eating dinner in their dugout. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Homesteader and his children eating barbeque at the New Mexico Fair. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

On main street of Cascade. Cascade, Idaho, July 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Boy building a model airplane as girl watches. Robstown, Texas, January 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Arthur Rothstein. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

African American's tenant's home beside the Mississippi River levee. Near Lake Providence, Louisiana, June 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

Assembling B-25 bombers at North American Aviation. Kansas City, Kansas, October 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Woman is working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber Tennessee, February 1943. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range Madison County, Montana, August 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Rural school children. San Augustine County, Texas, April 1943. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by John Vachon. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, Chicago and Northwest Railway Company. Clinton, Iowa, April 1943. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

View in a departure yard at Chicago and Northwestern Railway Company's Proviso yard at twilight. Chicago, Illinois, December 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Welder making boilers for a ship, Combustion Engineering Company. Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Grand Grocery Company. Lincoln, Nebraska, 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by John Vachon. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

Shulman's market, on N at Union Street S.W. Washington, D.C., between 1941 and 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Louise Rosskam. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

African American migratory workers by a "juke joint". Belle Glade, Florida, February 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

Worker at carbon black plant. Sunray, Texas, 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Worker at carbon black plant John Vachon. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Just amazing. If you feel so inclined, share the photographs of the Depression that you find most moving in the comments.

 

2 Comments

  1. Heidi
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    amazing shots! now i’m dreaming of ordering prints. thanks for posting.

  2. Emily
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Heidi! You totally should!

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