Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Farm Security Administration Color Photos, 1939-1944.

I'm listening to an audio version of The Grapes of Wrath on my weekly car commutes for work (let's see: 315 tracks, at a rate of twenty tracks per week ... so I'll be finished by ... August!). It is stark, depressing, and beautiful - everything I was promised, basically.

It has also inspired me to look up some images from the Dust Bowl. Which is how I stumbled on the Library of Congress' collection of color photographs from the Farm Security Administration on Flickr. Most of the images I've seen from this era are in black and white, so these color images just leap off the page (or, okay, screen).

There is so much sadness in these photos, so much pride, so much hard work. Absolutely stunning.

(And they make me want to sew more cotton frocks and even more aprons.)

Faro and Doris Caudill, homesteaders, Pie Town, New Mexico (LOC)
Oh my goodness, look at the bias tape on this beauty!

Orchestra at square dance in McIntosh County, Oklahoma (LOC)
The hat, the socks, the dress, the guitar!

Young woman at the community laundry on Saturday afternoon, FSA ... camp, Robstown, Tex. (LOC)
From a labor camp. This dress and apron are so lovely.

Winner at the Delta County Fair, Colorado (LOC)
Gingham, check matching, piping, bias tape ...

Chopping cotton on rented land near White Plains, Greene County, Ga. (LOC)
Wow, is it possible that anyone actually farmed in dresses like this?
At the Vermont state fair, Rutland (LOC)
Three girls dressed from the same bolt of fabric, or the same patterned feedsack?


  1. Damn. You make me see clothes in a totally new way. Thank you.

  2. Hmmmm. Weren't you appalled that Osh Kosh fetishized the dustbowl with a pair of overalls some fourscore or so posts ago?

    Not that I'm judging you. So you like calico aprons. So bias tape really does it for you. Gingham, eh? It's all groovy, baby.

  3. I actually thought about that! But they were using the Dust Bowl to sell stuff! (And perhaps I was being a bit sensitive, I was just surprised to see them using it as a marketing ploy. I think as I said in that post, there are other ways they could have made the connection with the 30s without directly referencing a terrible natural/ecological disaster!)

    One thing that just breaks my heart about these beautiful photos is the obvious care and love that went into making these clothes, even in the hardest of times. I do like the aesthetic of the 1930s, doesn't mean I love poverty, y'know?

    Yeah, might have backed myself into a corner on this one. :-)

  4. I've stumbled over this issue several times on this blog, actually - If you love 1950s dresses, does that make you anti-feminist? Are aprons a symbol of patriarchy or just a functional garment to keep your clothes clean while you cook (and so, it might as well be pretty)?

    I guess I'm still working my thoughts on this out - I do think fashion is PART of the surrounding culture, but it also exists separately. It's okay to have taste, but it would be weird to market an apron as "The Frustrated Housewife Apron" ...

    Perhaps I need a new post on all this! Thanks!

  5. I think there are lots of ways to be a feminist and lots of ways to be awesome. I think you can be a feminist in a frilly pink apron. You don't need regulation birkenstocks.

    And it's true, you aren't selling anything.

    My grandparents got married in the dustbowl (they celebrated their 75th anniversary a few years ago, my grandpa is 104!) and I love their old photos of their children on the prairies during the depression. They don't have two nickles to rub together and they are skin and bones but their children have bows in their hair (even my dad!) and their clothing is well-mended. It's a very different esthetic from today where people drop hundred on formal portrait sittings with their whole family in jeans and tee-shirts.

  6. Hi Mean Jellybean! That's wonderful that you have that family history! Several of my grandparents grew up during the Depression in poor areas of the country, but sadly, I don't have any photos of them in their Sunday best to peruse.

    Beauty + utility = "Folk Art."

    And we all know I love folk art! :-)

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