Taken from 1939 to 1943 under the auspices of the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information, these 175 "lost" photos feature shots by Russell Lee, Andreas Feininger and Marion Post Wolcott, using the then-revolutionary technology of Kodachrome film. Color photographs taken before 1939 have largely deteriorated, so these surviving photos are later than the most familiar b&w Depression-era shots. This 11¾"×8½" volume thus "colorizes" one's normally black-and-white impressions of a very vibrant time, as Hendrickson (Sons of Mississippi) notes in his introduction. The logic behind the arrangement of the photos, which at first seems largely random, as it follows neither photographer, location nor chronology, becomes clear by the end of the book: the U.S.'s industrial rise. Images of urban lethargy and farmhands picking cotton under hot blue skies (the unbearable conditions of cotton-picking somehow seem more apparent in color) gradually give way to images of mobility, mechanization and a changing economy. Arnold T. Palmer's gleaming portraits of Rosie the riveter–like aircraft workers follow Jack Delano's earthier photos of male railroad workers, their sweaty and intent faces caked with soot. Tellingly, the book ends with photos of bombers flying over California.
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More barely known, invaluable early-1940s photos come to complement Angelo Spinelli and Lewis Carlson's Life behind Barbed Wire [BKL Mr 15 03] and Evan Bachner's At Ease [BKL My 15 03]. But whereas those books reveal sparsely documented aspects of World War II servicemen's lives, this one shows mostly civilians in examples of the color work done for the Farm Service Administration (FSA) and its successor, the Office of War Information. FSA, in particular, is a byword for documentary photographic excellence because of the agency's documentation of the Depression by photographers famously including Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. But those pictures are black and white, and many may not even know that color film was exposed for the FSA. So these images by FSA stalwarts Marion Post Wolcott, John Vachon, Jack Delano, Russell Lee, and others constitute manna from the archives. Affectionately and analytically introduced by journalist Paul Hendrickson, they show farm people and rural life in far-flung corners of the U.S., then urban workers and workplaces, then wartime work and workers. Masterly and powerful as their monochrome siblings, they are as complexly delightful, not least because they boost the documentary reputation of the most popular painter of their time, Norman Rockwell; the faces in the photos look just like those in his paintings. Ray Olson
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