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Color photos from the Great Depression

August 2, 2010

I used to think that the Great Depression was kinda boring. Something my grandparents mentioned occasionally. And then it was something that other people were obsessed with. And then I got interested in sustainable agriculture, and have since decided that the 1930s and ’40s were the optimal combination of old-world knowledge and new technologies when it came to growing food. The economy wanted American-grown produce and family farms were still family farms – relatively small in size and run by a single family and some field hands. Artificial fertilizers and pesticides were used more sparingly than post-WWII (though they were definitely used and they were definitely nasty). Agricultural machinery was sized on a relatively human scale. And the outfits were cute. 🙂

The Great Depression now fascinates me, especially after taking a grad class which finally explained (mostly) how the economic collapse happened.

So why am I talking about it now? This is why. That is a collection of photographs from the Great Depression. But not just any old photographs – they are COLOR photos. The color is so jarring to me that some of the photos look like they are from the 1960s and ’70s (it’s the shades of color). The images are interesting, though, and some of them iconic. One of the most striking photos to me is of a family of black Americans cutting cotton in a yellow field with a brilliant blue sky. They are all barefoot, but the women are all wearing cotton shirt dresses and hats. They look like they should be shopping in town, not toiling away in the fields. I also love the one of the family eating dinner in a very cramped dugout house.

The other somewhat jarring thing is the color. It is EVERYWHERE! Storefronts are bright yellow and red; the sky is a brilliant blue; and there is dirt everywhere.

Another thing I noticed is that none of the pictures feature rain or overcast skies. Perhaps because the photographer didn’t want to risk his or her camera, but it makes me think instead of the massive droughts happening in the American southwest during this time.

The collection is quite large and long, and as a historian I find many of the captions incredibly dry and bare, but the color is splendid. Take a look for yourself.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 3, 2010 7:53 AM

    Those pictures are amazing. I am convinced that I was born in the wrong decade…

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