The FSA in the Kodachrome era


Figure 1 – Russell Lee “Portrait of the Jack Whinery Family, Pie Town, NM 1940” from the Library of Congress and in the public domain.

If we look at the image of the children at the Weill school saying the pledge of allegiance, we see what is our standard view of the depression – it is black and white.  The same is true with Ken Burns’ “The Dust Bowl.”  We have a black and white world, and by virtue of its being black and white we are somehow immune to it.

I have also discussed the Autochrome process, which brought images from 1907 – 1937 into a very spectacular and vivid color.  I also described how Kodak introduced Kodachrome in 1937 and a new age of color photography.

A reader has been kind enough to share with me an article in the Denver Post showing FSA photographs taken with the Kodachrome process from the collection of the Library of Congress.  Suddenly that world becomes rendered in the characteristically striking color of Kodachrome film.  It was hard to chose a favorite and representative image.  Finally, I settled upon the image in Figure 1 taken by Russell Lee in 1940.  It is a picture of homesteader Jack Whinery and his family in Pie Town, New Mexico.

I like the Whinery picture because it is so like the many black and whites that we see from these federal projects.  We can no longer hide in the security of monotone.  And, of course, the current recession 2008 – 2013 raises eyebrows and makes us question the fragility of our perceived distance from these souls and immunity from their woes.


This entry was posted in History of Photography.

One Trackback

  1. […] have previously extolled the virtues of Kodak’s “Kodachrome” transparency film.  This is part of the mystique of the “Analogue Days,” of […]