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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Books

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The following images were made by Farm Security Administration/Office of
War Information photographers during World War II and are part of the
famous FSA photography series that I have written about here.
The color photographs–which were made in the first decade or so of
the use of this new medium–represented only about 1,600 of the
collection of 160,000 images in the FSA archive, and are far less known
than their black-and-white complements, many of which are new iconic
symbols for this period. The color images are beautiful works, and
somehow seem to bring these historic images a little closer to the

[Source: the Library of Congress,]Fsa color negro juke

Negro migratory workers by a "juke joint" (?), Belle Glade, Fla.

Wolcott, Marion Post, 1910-1990, photographer.

Fsa negro color juke 2
Living quarters and "juke joint" for migratory workers, a slack season; Belle Glade, Fla. Wolcott, Marion Post, 1910-1990, photographer.

Image, Source: digital file from original slide

A cross roads store, bar, "juke joint," and gas station in the cotton plantation area, Melrose, La.

Image, Source: digital file from original transparency

General store, Chacon, N[ew] Mex[ico] Collier, John, 1913-1992, photographer.

Fsa color general store 3

General store, near Questa, Taos County, N[ew] Mex[ico]

Collier, John, 1913-1992, photographer.

Fsa color pie town

General Merchandise store, Main Street, Pie Town, New Mexico

Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer.

Fsa color plumbing store

Brockton, Mass., Dec. 1940, second-hand plumbing store Delano, Jack, photographer.

Fsa color stores natchez
Natchez, Miss. Wolcott, Marion Post, 1910-1990, photographer.

Fsa color store natchez 2
Natchez, Miss. Wolcott, Marion Post, 1910-1990, photographer.

Natchez, Miss.

Natchez, Miss.

A cross roads store, bar, "juke joint," and gas station in the cotton plantation area, Melrose, La.

[Grand Grocery Co.], Lincoln, Neb.

A store with live fish for sale, vicinity of Natchitoches, La.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series

This is a quick follow-up to an earlier post on Solomon Butcher in which there two two photographic images that are clearly “manufactured”–one is created in the darkroom (simply adding trees in a tress-less landscape), while the other (below) is an unlabelled recreation of an event. This is in the lines of Timothy O’Sullivan and Matthew Brady dressing up their images a bit by posing the dead or giving them added bits (like muskets and so on) to enliven the picture. This one though is entirely theatre–as it happens there are very few 19th century photographs depicting a crime-in-progress. Butcher just decided to show his audience what the crime probably looked like. In any event if not for a little Zoomology the scene could’ve perhaps passed for real.

Butcher vigilantes two det one
This is a detail from the full-plate glass negative, printed out so:

Butcher vigilantes two

Without the enlargement it is difficult to tell what sort of instruments the ranchers were holding. But up close the wire cutters are simply suggestions of that too, being made of wood and all.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1912

Butcher new settlers on prairie det

When Solomon Butcher laid his head down on his final pillow he evidently thought of himself as a half-failure. His work as a photographer in a life full of travel through the Great Plains lead to not-much-"success" save for one book1, and his work wasn't recognized for the impact that it would have in the decades to come. Perhaps he wondered if his ways were all worth it, hauling his family and his enormously heavy collection of full-plate glass negatives from one house to the next. Of course that would change in death–not the money part, but certainly the recognition. His photographs are outstanding glimpses into late 19th century American frontier life, and especially so for the work he did making images of families and their belongings in the long rolling landscape of pioneer Nebraska.

not sure exactly what Solomon Butcher told his subjects when he photographed them
outside of their frontier houses out there in the Great
Plains in the 1880’s. His spectacular
portraits included not only the family of the house, but in many cases, everything
that the family owned. Possessions were


(Image via the Nebraska State Historical Society, with caption2 below.)

encumbrance making your way across the country in the mid/19th century,
especially if you didn’t have very many to begin with. These families—the first generation in their
mostly sod-built houses—would’ve been farmers scratching out a minimum trade
and decent subsistence. City/town goods
would’ve been not-usual in these circumstances, and evidently whatever it was
they had of these things wound up outside, displayed around the house and on
the roof, when Mr. Butcher arrived in his photographer’s wagon.
Butcher death trip859

was it, I wonder, who came up with the initial idea of displaying the
family’s possessions: did Butcher set
out with that idea, or did it happen spontaneously? I wonder what it was the families thought as
Butcher was packing up his equipment, his horse fed, his cameras stowed away,
climbing up onto the driver’s bench. Did
they wait until he was a spot on the horizon to put away their things? Did they gather everything up as Butcher
gathered up his own material, or did they just wait for the stranger to
disappear before pulling the family back together? Sitting their surrounded by
the things that they owned, did these families feel a quiet pride, or were they
embarrassed have their pictures made together with their frontier opulence?)

There's much to look at in these images, and the Nebraska Historical Society does a very good job at it here, espcially when they work at some digital magic, making some of the disappeared stuff that lurks in the shadows of the interiors of the cabins appear. What is of interest to me today are the sunburns–this issue was brought up yesterday in another post on the invention of the satirical photograph, where the self-portrait shows a man with heavily sunned face and hands, the marks of a working man with dark settling on light becomes a little remarkable.

This is seen in Butcher's photographs from time-to-time. In the series of photographs of homesteads, he often captured images of men without hats–seldom the case, I guess, in the normal routine of a day. The men's faces are deeply tanned except for where the hat is pulled down to the middle of their forehead, where we see a much lighter complexion:

Harve Andrews and family by the grave of "Willie," photographed by Solomon Butcher, Victoria Creek Canyon, Custer County, 1887. NSHS RG2608-2360

Which makes sense, of course, since these were pioneers and farmers, and working pretty much all of the time outdoors.

I remember being surprised the first few times I noticed this, and then not so. This is much like seeing all of those non-smiling photographic portraits of the 19th century and wondering about the sombreness, when the general explanation for the seriousness was far simpler: given the length of time for an exposure, it was took simply too much effort to hold the same smile for a minute or three, and so the rigid face became a necessity. The brands of the faces of these men was there simply because they wore hats outdoors doing hard work in the High Plains sun.

There's a world going on in these photographs, but for right now I'm just looking at faces.The Library of Congress site has an excellent collection of this images online, and there's a lot of micro-photo inspection to be done.

Another example, here:

Butcher sun det
Which is a detail from: Butcher sun
(Source: The Library of Congress, "Rev. and Mrs. E.D. Eubank on Clear Creek west of Lee Park, Custer County, Nebraska".)

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1911

“Nothing is falser than people's preconceptions and ready-made opinions; nothing is sillier than their sham morality…”
(atribued to) Petronius,

The Satyricon

Bayard, Hippolyte(Image source, Gerry Badger blog, who also has some interesting things to say about the work as
momento mori .)

The road in determining who was the first person to what discovery is sometime a bit rocky–so with the invention of the computer (ask Mr. Atanatsoff), and the telephone (ditto Mr. Gray) and the television (and so to with Dr. Korn). This is also the case with photography, the rights for the discovery of the process contested in the first year following the announcement of the process.

The response to rejected claims for priority in discovery are almost (?) never recorded visually, but in he case of photography the rejected party did make a visual response, which I think was a prosimentrum of sorts, a photographic novella, and the appearance of the first use of satire in photography.

Louis Daguerre's epochal publication in the Comptes Rendus in 1839 would bring about the general recognition of the birth of photography–his process was described in that article and was immediately set to use by hundreds of adventurers people even in the first few weeks after publication. IT may well be that there are legitimate claimants working on the "photogenic" science before this time but it is Mr. Daguerre who published his findings first.

Among the many "firsts" in the first year of photography (reckoned as PD or post Daguerre

[Source here.]

Generally though the first photographic portrait has been recognized as being the work of Robert Cornelius, who was among the earliest practioners of the new science of the Daguerreotype. This is his work, dated 1839, made in his father's gas light importing business on Chestnut Street, Philadelphia:

The First Portrait Photograph Ever Made firstportrait

(Both subjects have interesting hair issues.)

is is fine and remarkable, though the images simply record the bodies of the humans that are pictured. The first human portrait with an edge, with a political or social axe too grind and point to make, an image bent on a decisive end, belongs to a man who mildly and then hotly contested Daguerere's claim to the birth of photography–Hippolyte Bayard.

Bayard (1807-1887) experimented in the photographic science before the publication of Daguerre's paper and had shared some of his successes at this early date with members of the French Academy of Sciences (the publishers of the esteemed Comptes Rendus, the vehicle for Daguerre's paper). He was even in communication with Francois Arago, who as it turns out was the champion of Daguerre, and who introduced the paper to the world. After the appearance of Daguerre's paper Bayard–no doubt somewhat envious of the attention and money/funding that Daguerre was receiving) petitioned for help from Arago to establish his own claim and a chance for the experimenter's lament (funding). He was told in no uncertain terms by Arago to cease the attention, as it would hurt the chances of Daguerre to establish his priority and have the honor of the invention of photography to stay in France. It is a longer story than this, obviously, but suffice to say, Bayard's interests were mostly ignored, his priority claims relinquished. (He was later able to collect a few thousand francs for his scientific work, but the larger prizes eluded him.

And so in 1840, full of his own defeat and thoroughly impressed by Daguerre's success, Bayard composed the (above) portrait of himself as a drowned and dead man. On the reverse he wote:

"The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the
process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this
indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with
his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to
Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and
the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life….!
… He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has
recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you'd better pass along
for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the
face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay."
(From Helmut Gernsheim, A Concise History of Photography, with Alison Gernsheim, London: Thames & Hudson, 1965)

It seems that the use of satire in photography was not common in the first few decades following 1839, which makes Bayard's first use of he genre in 1840 even more remarkable. Satire in general has been aroudn for thousands of years, mostly in the form of drama and literature, and then in (Western, at least) painting in the Renaissance), right up through the Brueghels and Hogarth and Chaplin's Great Dictator and Dr. Strangelove. But it seems to me that the first photographic use of the genre came with the overtaken Bayard, who at least deserves this honor of "firstness".


I just wanted to remark on the hands and head of Bayard in his self-portrait–I believe that the man is just sunburned. It si common to see in 19th century photographs of working people that–when their hat is removed and so on–we see a big sun/tan line ont heir forehead. This is particularly the case in the work of Solomon Butcher, who recorded the lives of families on the SOdbuster Fronter in the 1880's and 1890's in Nebraska.

Harve Andrews and family by the grave of "Willie," photographed by Solomon Butcher, Victoria Creek Canyon, Custer County, 1887. NSHS RG2608-2360

(Source, Nebraska State Historical Society.)

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series

From the photography collection at the Library of Congress, offering deep and big graphic files. The file photograph looked interesting, but on closer inspection the magnificent central figure is revealed:

Negro chain gang detail middleedited-1
"Chain gang of convicts engaged in road work. Pitt County, North
Carolina. Autumn 1910. The inmates were quartered in the wagons shown in
the picture. Wagons were equipped with bunks and move from place to
place as labor is utilized. The central figure in the picture is J.Z.
McLawhon, who was at that time county superintendent of chain gangs. The
dogs are bloodhounds used for running down any attempted escapes."

The full image:


Negro chain gang detail middle right

Negro chain gang detail far right dited-1

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

This is a continuation of sort of this morning's post, "Massive 500-Daguerreotype Mosaic", though this one concentrates on the sumptuous ruination and decay that has occurred within and to some of these photographic images. I've looked closely at only five of these images, and within each of these five images there are five more. And, if you manipulated the largest downloadable file of these (which range up to about 150 megs), there are five more within the five within the five. And all that before you start to imagine the artistic fantasies int he non-representational forms, and that before adding color. So five is all that will be here, for the present.

Ruination old dags detail 1

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

I found Jack Delano as a photographer for the Farm Security administration where he worked for Ray Stryker making photographs of the vastly changing America during the mid/late 1930's. He worked with a relatively small group of photographers
including Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Mary Post Wolcott, Arthur
Rothstein, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks,
Charlotte Brooks, John Vachon, Carl Mydans, Dorothea Lange and Ben
Shahn–as a collective they produced perhaps the greatest body of documentary work this country has ever seen. Delano was in his mid-20's when he started with the FSA, a little more than a decade in the U.S. after arriving here from the Ukraine (born Jack Ovcharov in 1914). Besides his life in photography, Delano was a gifted and versatile composer. He died in 1997.

Here's an interview with Delano at the Archives of American Art (here).

Most images below are from the FSA collection at the Library of Congress (here). Another nice selection is found at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (here)




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