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October 28, 2005

The Depression in Color

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

If you're like me, the images you carry in your brain of the Great Depression are in black and white. So the Library of Congress' new show comes as a real eye-opener: a collection of color photos of that faraway era. The Library's website includes a terrific online exhibition. It's amazing how much more immediate color can make a photograph, let alone an era, isn't it?



posted by Michael at October 28, 2005


Funny how flipping from black&white to color makes history seem so different.

Here is a book full of color pix over 1939-59. And here is a World War I history with a section of color photos (!!) from 90 year ago. Hope I could make those links work.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 28, 2005 7:32 PM

Some of these photos of Tsarist Russia date before WWI. This one of The Emir of Bukhara was taken in 1911, for instance. Very cool exhibition btw.

Posted by: Cody on October 29, 2005 12:59 AM

That reminds me that I saw a video collection in the "World War II in Color" vein a while back. While World War II seems to my Baby Boom vintage mind to have been fought in black and white, I think I've seen enough scraps and tidbits of color footage from that war over the years not to be too surprised by it. What did astonish me was the color footage of President Roosevelt's 1941 inauguration. FDR would seem like a black and white President if there ever was one, but there he was in this clip, in color, with the streets of Washington DC festooned in red, white, and blue bunting all around him. THAT was startling!


Posted by: Dwight Decker on October 29, 2005 5:24 PM

This topic reminds me of a story that David McCullough mentioned in some interview about seeing Harry Truman in person for the first time as he was coming out of a Brooklyn hotel in the 1950s and being startled at seeing someone in color that he had previously become familiar with only in black and white newspaper photos and newsreels.

Similarly, in the early 1970s (when most newspapers were in black and white), I remember being startled at how ruddy cheeked some local politicos (e.g., my Congressman) looked at local community appearances. At first I thought maybe they'd had a few drinks, but then I thought it was more likely I was unaccustomed to seeing them in color.

I think the "effect" was more startling with male celebrities as 1) they didn't have pancake makeup to take away the ruddiness and 2) I think the "mind" expects female "celebrities" in personal appearances to be wearing colorful lipstick, etc. (It would be more of a "shock" to see a female celebrity without some bits of color -- especially lipstick -- on her face.)

# # #

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on October 29, 2005 9:18 PM

Great photos. Thanks for the link. There is something in the tones that seems a touch more muted and less garish than today's color photos, but not in an unrealistic way. In fact they seem more realistic if anything, like today's photos are almost too vivid. You are right that the color brings a startling immediacy and "nowness" to the period. But those are beautifully composed and shot photos even apart from the color.

Posted by: MQ on October 30, 2005 6:10 PM

Posted by: David Sucher on October 31, 2005 4:53 AM

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