Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943


#10 Drinking on the job! // #70 Serious work, serious times. // #68 Lessons

Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 – Plog Photo Blog.

It’s a rainy Thursday here, perfect weather to share this wonderful photo blog. These pictures, spanning from 1939 to 1943, were compiled by the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. Offering a glimpse into the lives of rural Americans, they are unique not only for the fact that they’re in color, but because they represent a subset of photography long since past.

Any photographer, amateur or professional, will appreciate the care taken to tell the stories of these people. Today, we live in an age where you can pick up a digital SLR, shoot hundreds of frames in a matter of minutes, and delete them twice as fast. The result is that you lose the ability to think critically, not just about your composition, but about your subject matter. Everything becomes expendable.

Trust me, there aren’t enough filters in Photoshop to re-create what you see here.

To any youngsters out there (yes, I am that annoying old person who freely dispenses unsolicited advice) enamored with photography, I urge you to pick up a manual SLR and let yourself struggle for a bit. When you know you’ve only got one chance to get it right, when you don’t have shots to waste, well, you’ll see what being serious about photography is really all about. Getting back that first roll and feeling disappointed will become a memory more priceless than all the ones of you heading into Photoshop to disguise what you never learned about lighting, about focus, about frame. . .

Technology is great. Hell, I wouldn’t be blogging this without it! But machines are only as good as the people using them. When you rely solely on their ability and intelligence, you take yourself out of the equation completely. The photos posted here are visceral, real, “could have been taken yesterday,” because the photographer was an active agent of their creation.

Yep, technology is great. But it’s not going to teach you the basic, essential elements. A machine is not going to teach you how to see.

#58 His best friend.

3 Responses to “Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943”

  1. Great link. Thanks for posting. What a unique collection of photos! I think often we young folk, or those unused to black and white photography in general, see little beyond old b&w photos. Miss the humanity and realness of people, just because the shading is a little more stately. So for me, I got a real shock seeing this time in colour. People had red cheeks! And dirty feet, and so on so on. I think the photos that really made me feel this era were the ones of the family eating. So simple, but it really took me to their time. Fantastic link!

    What really struck is how true your statement of our reliance on technology is. It is something I always forget about, except when taking photos with my Mum. Her family didn’t have a camera when she was a kid, and she both hates taking photos and posing for them. No matter what kind of camera we’ve had – and we had some very nice and costly ones – she takes awful pictures. It is simply because she is uncomfortable for the medium. Yet everytime she takes one, she blames the camera. And that’s how everyone thinks these days.

    It would be really interesting if you might post some of your manual photography tips – or even how you would take a photo with a digital camera.

    • thanks for your comment, tip-tap! it is somewhat shocking seeing anything post 1950 in color, isn’t it? i often feel we of the modern age don’t think of our past as “real” until we see it in color.

      i’ll email you about manual photography, ok? i have to get my head together about it. it’s been awhile for me and i’m out of practice!

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