The Depression in color


51 Responses to “The Depression in color”

  1. gerbal says:

    You recognize the dress because its from the Sears Catalog. Just about every on of the flowery, colorful dresses you see on these folks are from Sears-Robucks.

  2. dragonfrog says:

    I love #13 – they were dancing hard. I don’t much see dancers that sweaty anymore – are people afraid to sweat now, or am I just going to the wrong parties?

  3. bicolor says:

    Wow, I’ve driven the road in #27 probably 500 times. It’s a bit steeper now, but I recognized the hills the moment I saw the photo.

  4. peterbruells says:

    Do they look healthier?

    Part of me, seeing the skinniness and the tan, agrees.

    Another part of me sees people who quite frankly look ten years older or more than they are.

    • Maggie Koerth-Baker says:

      So much agree.

      “Thin” does not equal “healthy”, people. That same Great-Grandma of mine told stories about sick children, the effects of malnourishment, and parasites that would make your skin crawl.

      I’ll take a few extra pounds, thanks.

      And don’t even get me started on “tan”. I’m still not sure how my red-haired Great-Grandpa managed to avoid melanoma.

      • michael holloway says:

        Maggie Koerth-Baker replyed to peterbruells who said,

        “Do they look healthier?

        Part of me, seeing the skinniness and the tan, agrees.



        The ad culture of perfect… Perfect Hair, Perfect Smile, Perfect Body… .

        There is no such thing of coarse; and the quest for such a state is a life lived (not lived) in fear of what the other may think – rather than a life lived learning trough failure and mistake.

        Now ‘perfect gentleman’, that’s something we need more of… :)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting these – I found the original set at the library of congress – 1600 color photos! (They’ve only put a handful up on flickr). Amazing stuff.

  6. jamesneysmith says:

    After seeing these photos I feel pretty lucky to have had grandparents who live on a farm that has been in our family for 150 years. Most of the buildings, decorations, clothing, furniture, etc. probably haven’t changed much since the 1940′s. My grandmother was still washing and rinsing all her clothes by hand as recently as the late 90′s. When my cousins and I would visit we would play around the yard very likely in the same fashion our grandparents or parents did. We used no modern creations, just what we would find which was mostly old farm equipment, streams, hay bails, trees, fences, etc. Those weeks were always a highlight of my childhood and they remain very fond memories.

  7. candles says:

    umm, dragonfrog, you’re just going to the wrong parties. I definitely got sweatier than that last night! My shorts finally dried out later on this morning. Drenched. A good soul dj can really get you going!

  8. elliot winner says:

    The comments are terrible.

  9. JumbarTheThug says:

    No fat people

  10. Anonymous says:

    Speaking as a Brocktonian who has seen some of these photos before (and also a few more from Brockton, including a fantastic one of a friend’s great-grandfather;s junk shop), I feel obliged to point out that Brockton is not and was not a small town but a city. Although the Depression was the nail in the coffin for our once-thriving shoe production industry, we were and are still one of Massachusetts’ largest cities.

  11. Teller says:

    Really terrific series. As if composed by Rockwell.

  12. grimc says:

    Wow. Gotta say that #70 is the showstopper, literally and figuratively.

    I don’t know if you know this, but many of Rockwell’s paintings started as staged photographs,29307,1943059_2005731,00.html

  13. Anonymous says:

    Check out the book “Pie Town Woman” by Joan Myers for more information on Doris Caudill and family.

  14. nataliep says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how, as a young person, I have each decade in the 1900′s neatly defined and separated in my brain by its stereotypes and media documentation. As a result, these color photos are really messing with my brain. These aren’t people in the 1940′s, these are people in the 1970′s playing 1940′s dress-up. My imagination never imagined for me that the colors in their world would be so vivid, or that the highlights and subtle colors of their skin would make them look like real humans just like me.

    But then, I remember, the 1940′s weren’t all that far away from the 1970′s, and the 1970′s weren’t so far from the 2010′s. In thirty or forty years I don’t expect to look back upon the 2010′s with such a feeling of nostalgia and history. But it makes me wonder how my grandchildren will define “2010″ in their minds.

    These are amazing, thanks for sharing.

    • MrJM says:

      As someone who grew up on the Great Plains in the 70′s, let me assure you, it still looked a hellovalot like this.

      In the nicer spots, it still does.

  15. footage says:

    Just wanted to point out that all of these are available for free download in high-res TIFFs (caution: over 100MB each) from our very own Library of Congress. Begin here:

    And don’t forget that there are excellent B&W photos, also from the Farm Security Administration collection:

  16. Stefan Jones says:

    My favorite is the one showing lady war workers having lunch.

  17. agave says:

    I know that town. I worked in Stonington for a couple of years. Still a quaint little town.

  18. Anonymous says:

    number 70 is startling!

  19. Freddie Freelance says:

    I’m seeing a big jump from the early pictures, with the Flour Sack fabric patterns & home-made styles on the dresses & aprons, changing to a more store bought look in just a couple images.

    And image #70; if you work in a Carbon Black factory today, you’ll look just as dirty at the end of the day.

  20. WaylonWillie says:

    great post, thank you. this really makes you think about how black and white images make you think about the world in a certain way. some enterprising photoshopper: quickly convert all these to b&w to see how they change…..

  21. jphilby says:

    Photos. They’re like windows into history.

    Amazing the difference color makes. I’ve sat through hundreds of hours of WW2-era films, but when I see the rare color film from that era, it makes it seem so much closer and real.

    I guess that’s because we’ve learned to associate B&W with “ghostly by-gone era” and color with “modern”.

    I wonder what’s being done today that will seem “modern” in 50 years?

  22. nnguyen says:

    If you guys are interested in more FSA photos by Jack Delano, here’s the digitized black & white ones at Library of Congress:

    disclosure: I’m part of the development team that create the Prints and Photographs online catalog web site.

  23. manicbassman says:

    African American? not happy with the labeling… just calling them young boys or whatever would do…

  24. Anonymous says:

    A perfect example of why Kodachrome is so important.
    This color film has recored more history then any other. Excellent shots…..

  25. nixiebunny says:

    Many of these are familiar from

    The proprietor, Dave, has posted many of these photos in high resolution, but some only in B&W.

  26. abushnell says:

    Regarding #17: the biscuits are sitting on top of a Karo can. Note that the can is probably filled with bacon grease for dipping the biscuits into. This from my eldest aunt, who grew up poorer than all of her sisters, and had beans & cornbread for dinner several nights a week, with bacon grease in the middle of the table for dipping.

  27. Pantograph says:

    The one thing that strikes me when seeing photographs like these, just like it did when I saw pictures from the ’50s of my family in the USSR is how healthy these people look compared with our modern selves, even compared with those of us who are completely free of hardship and who visit the gym three times a week.

    So why are we looking worse than starving peasants under both capitalist and communist oppression?

  28. BrotherPower says:

    Funny. Draplin posted this a few days ago. I thought about submitting it, but I assumed a few hundred others would have beaten me to it.

    As nataliep said, this series is kind of mindbending.

    It sounds naive, but I too have always operated with a “Before Color/After Color” mindset that kept the past safely in the past. I’ll be honest: to see everyday life as it was lived before my parents were born, but to see it looking much like my own childhood, fairly pounded me with the fact of my own mortality.

    Step one: call my parents.

    Step two: get busy.

    Oh, and step three: make some bannock. (#17 got me hungry!)

  29. joncro says:

    They are all on flickr:

    on the Library of Congress’ photostream.

  30. michael holloway says:

    “#19 Homesteader and his children eating barbeque at the New Mexico Fair. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress”

    Man, White Bread. When *did* they (we) start poisoning us (ourselves) with that stuff???

  31. jfrancis says:

    See number 57? I found it on Google street view today

    The nice round tower is gone. So is the triangular pediment. But other than that, it’s the same buildings.,0,18358442359387795043&ei=Ai9WTNzUOYaCsQP585jaAg&ved=0CBcQnwIwAA&hq=6+n+montana+st+dillon+mt&t=h&layer=c&cbll=45.217729,-112.637384&panoid=4n2eP7lGa98aUaboLJTN3A&cbp=12,125.82,,0,0.58&ll=45.217659,-112.637479&spn=0.012319,0.019205&z=16

  32. hadlock says:

    It’s worth noting that even though they’re in full color, everything is either Black, Brown, White, Red (or faded Red, “pink”) and/or Blue.

    One or two pieces of clothing in that entire series are yellow. Green, orange, sky blue or any other number of vibrant secondary colors don’t exist at that income level.

    There’s some really good, ultra high resolution “photocrome” false color slides from the 1880s from all over Europe, from Norway to Istanbul, and up north to Russia as well.

    They’re taken just as steam powered boats started to take off; so there’s an excellent assortment of sail powered freighters mixed in with enormous steamers in these crowded, beautiful brick and stone port cities.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I remember looking at some of the 4×5 negatives of these when I worked at the library of congress in the early 80s.

  34. pffft says:

    these are really amazing – I don’t know if i’ve seen many color photos from this early. it really does make them much more real doesn’t it. i could look at these for hours. thanks!

  35. dr says:

    Great set of photos. I don’t think that the period 1939-43 really counts as “the depression”, however.

  36. Anonymous says:

    holy.. the effect of color is so profound- i dont even know where to begin transcribing what i feel..

    but were these originally b/w photos? how are these converted?

  37. C White says:

    Great series of photos. I love the aesthetic of the film and cameras from the time.

    I think #6 was my fav.

  38. Anonymous says:

    I thought I had originally seen these photos on boingboing a while back, but never the less after seeing them somewhere….I put together a paper back version of some of my favorites on Lulu. You can download it for free or buy a paper back copy.

  39. Anonymous says:

    There is a wonderful book called Pie Town Woman by Joan Meyers ( about the photographer Russel Lee and his pictures of Pie Town, New Mexico, many of which are in this collection. The author tracks down Doris Caudell, the woman in the featured photo, and interviews her about the time.

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