- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

For those too young to have lived through them, it can feel like the Depression and World War II happened in black and white.

So the brilliance in a trove of rarely seen color photographs of the era is startling: a female railroad worker sports a red kerchief and matching nail polish, a seaside town is framed in a range of blues, factory rows of B-25 bombers sprout like yellow corn.

The New Deal photographers who captured these early color images are better known for their black-and-white work. But they also explored the potential of the new Kodachrome slide film as they created a visual record of America’s farm life and, later, its homefront.

About a dozen photographers originally went to work for the Farm Security Administration, set up to help poor farmers buy equipment. Their portrait of poverty and dreariness, especially in the Appalachians, shocked many Americans.

Then, as attention shifted to preparations for World War II, the whole FSA “historical section” was transferred to the Office of War Information.

The Library of Congress holds 1,600 color images covering both periods, and it’s exhibiting 70 of them as digital prints at the Thomas Jefferson Building, across the street from the Capitol, through Jan. 21.

All of the color photos — as well as more than 160,000 black-and-white images of the period — can be viewed on the library’s Web site, at https://memory. loc.gov/ammem/fsowhome.html.

Beverly Brannan, the library’s curator of documentary photographs, said a lot of conservation and stabilization had to be done before the prints in the exhibit, “Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939-1943,” could be made and displayed.

“The colors (on the Kodachrome transparencies) are like the meringue you make for a pie,” she said. “If you let them stand too long they separate. There may be too much red. Then, when you fix that, there may be too much blue.”

The resulting prints have a powerful immediacy.

In Pie Town, N.M. — so named because a prospector’s wife once sold pies there — photographer Russell Lee watched the homesteading Caudill family of four eating dinner. His photograph preserves an ordinary moment in an October evening of 1940, in the dugout home where they lived.

Doris Caudill, in gingham and apron, reaches past a plate of biscuits, perched atop a red Karo syrup can. Husband Faro Caudill, with tousled hair, open shirt, a two-day beard and a bandaged thumb, is delicately picking at his plate with the other hand.

Miss Brannan, a Kentuckian, says they are eating a Southern stew — green beans and fat pork, cooked until browned.

Photographer John Vichon lingered in front of a grocery in Lincoln, Neb., one day in June of 1939 or the early ‘40s. Its window was piled with oranges at a penny each and grapefruit for a nickel.

Three dust-covered crewmen struck a jaunty pose for Alfred T. Palmer, six months after Pearl Harbor, in front of their M-4 tank at Fort Knox, Ky.

In the last picture of the catalog, Mark Sherwood caught a B-25 bomber cruising peacefully near Inglewood, Calif., with two machine guns poking out of the rear perch. That was October 1942, when other American bombers were raiding the coast of occupied France and German troops were advancing on Stalingrad.

“When I look at the struggle coming up out of these pictures,” wrote Paul Hendrickson in the show’s catalog, “I feel somehow as if I’m combing through my own and the country’s ancestral attic with Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck.”

Admission to the show is free. After closing here, it is scheduled to go on display next year at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, from Sept. 2 to Nov. 12, and at the University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington, Jan. 21-April 8, 2007.

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