Biv, Roy G.


I’ve always been a sucker for old photographs and re-creations of photos within my own life – I don’t know where this comes from, as nobody in my family does anything like this for a living, but it’s made me an archivist. I can see myself enjoying ancient JPEGs in the year 2063.

A friend forwarded me the Bound for Glory online exhibit at the Library of Congress, and it is pretty amazing: color photographs commissioned by the Farm Security Administration from 1939-1942. See what I mean:


I love this Arthur Rothstein pic from 1942 because the girl at left is exactly the same age as my mom (turned 74 yesterday!) and yet no color pictures exist of my mom until well into her late twenties. There is a sunset of vision that usually occurs when we delve past 1955 or so: everything is black and white, and thus hard to relate to our own lives. But look at this picture from 1939:


The negative has gone a little red, but that’s people dancing, with their actual face color, and sweat, and you’re there. As for bigger canvases, I like the thunderstorm in this one…


…because in other B&W pics, it would look like a menacing metaphor for the American Dream gone sour, but here it is obviously that slick hot moment before a downpour. Of course, this everyday downpour happened in 1940, sixty-five years ago.

Images of the Great Depression are always in gray, but here’s a school recital in 1940, where if you look closely, half the kids don’t have shoes:


And this one, where the girl on the left looks like she’s dressed for a musical set in 1939, but no, she’s actually in 1939:


Finally, here’s a storefront by John Vachon taken in 1942. Every single product for sale can be bought in 2005. Corporations are evil, sure, but they do give us a nice pervading feeling of Omnitopia that stretches back to the casual glances of our grandfathers.


0 thoughts on “Biv, Roy G.

  1. oliver

    I’m with you, those are amazing. The dance photo makes a lot more vivid the idea that they lived without air conditioning back then. There’s something so wrong about that top photo especially being so old as it is.

  2. killian

    Phenomenal. These are Amazing. And the red-toned dance photo: that man on the left has my heart—he is clearly somewhere “else,” perhaps WITH someone else, but clearly transported. Like I am today, looking at him.

  3. scruggs

    Absolutely beautiful. Nice rainbow/color title. I love old pictures because you can just reconstruct your own little story as to what was going in that very moment.
    If you are so into archiving, maybe we can forward you to a Creative Memories consultant!

  4. LFMD

    Scruggs! You made me laugh out loud! I know of at least 10 Creative Memories consultants in my neighborhood for Ian to scrapbook with! If I give them Ian’s name, maybe they will leave me alone. Perhaps he can order some Longaberger baskets in which to store his Creative Memories scrapbooks! I can see it now. . .

  5. Beth

    CL, I’m a little confused by your recent Nazi references, this one especially–these photos were actually taken in color, not retouched. Check it out:
    “Bound for Glory: America in Color is the first major exhibition of the little known color images taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. These vivid scenes and portraits capture the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations, the nation’s subsequent economic recovery and industrial growth, and the country’s great mobilization for World War II.”
    Ian, I’m really psyched to see these–thanks for sharing! I’m going to pass on the link.

  6. LFMD

    Hey, man. I just looked at the calendar, and time is running out. Are we going to find out your big Hollywood news before everyone scatters for the holiday break????? Huh? I want to know! And I am not patient!

  7. caveman

    The picture of the three girls will haunt me for the rest of my days. Pushing out residual memories of the twins in “The Shining” to make room for them.

  8. CL

    >>Huh? I want to know! And I am not patient!
    Well, let’s narrow it down. It’s probably not a sequel to Manimal.
    Man! Animal! MANIMAL!!
    Maybe it’s a modern Small Wonder.

  9. Matt

    PAC guy, I think Ian was at least partially joking. Most people realize that without corporations we wouldn’t have half the things we love to use everyday. Like computers, for instance, which corporations made affordable and without which we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the stuff Ian shares with us here.

  10. Bozoette Mary

    I have a wonderful time looking at my mom’s old photos of her and her friends in the 30s and 40s! I love the photo of the three women, too — they remind me of circus performers from that — or really any other — time!

  11. kaz

    oliver, it’s actually RGB, since photographs are not printed the way modern color presses print (CMYK)…
    ian, this post and these photos are incredible. i have such a love of photography. and, indeed, the best robert frank’s or august sanders’ all resound in black and white, gorgeous as they are, and lose some immediacy.
    the three women reminded me of this one, a favorite of mine, just makes you wonder what they’re pondering, what’s outside the frame, and what happens after they get up and move along:

  12. Matt

    Color does bring it home the way Ian explains, but even the old B&W photographs fascinate me the way they do Kaz; wondering what the subjects are thinking, mesmerized by the way things were in that simplier time and circumspect by how much things have changed. It makes me wonder what people born long after we pass away will be thinking when they look at photos from our time. No doubt they’ll do so in much the same way, and it makes me wonder what the future holds (nanotechnology, space travel, etc.). All right, enough day dreaming for now. . .

  13. kaz

    matt, and anyone who is interested, this was a terrific interactive site that allows exploration of ideas in the medium of photography.
    if you go to the Image Lab – the Virtual Photoshoot – with Dorothea Lange – you can see the series of shots leading up to the iconic “migrant mother” photograph. it gives interesting perspective into the moments before and after.

  14. Anne

    Not to trivialize the Depression’s deprivations, but… look how slender Americans were! And I’m talking about the photos taken well after the U.S. had recovered from the Depression, too. I notice this when I look at my parents’ old family photos (c. 1920-1950s) as well. People might not have been as fashion-conscious or well groomed in general back then, but jeez, they looked hella fit compared to us now. :-(


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.