Monday, March 30, 2009

Cincinnati, 1938

Below I've reproduced some more photos from the Library of Congress Prints and Photos division. They were taken by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration and they show people in Cincinnati during a parade to celebrate the city's 150th anniversary in 1938. LC gives background information about Vachon and his FSA work here. About this day's work, he wrote to his wife:
October 11, 1938
Cincinnati, Ohio

Noon, Tuesday,

my sainted wife:

I got ya lettah this morning. You old dear girl. Now I'm gonna take it on the lamb. I don't know whether I'll have time to get a hair carve or not. I'd like to do the 1:30 train.

I got up about 9 o'clock went down for breakfast and then out to find a haircut, when whoops! Millions of people milling and muttering, mewling and puling, lining the streets for blocks & blocks to watch the parade go by. Cincinnati's Sesquicentennial parade. And me without a camera. So up I scoots to the 10th floor, loads me Leica, and down I am again. First I takes in the post office, reads your lovely letter, sighs for you, and then starts snapping. In short, I spent a very profitable 2½ hours. Really got some good material. I don't know what it is worth to John Citizen who is paying for it, but it pleases me, and was a great deal of fun. Our organization really should be a part of the WPA art project. That is my only trouble these days, getting an untroubled and respectable conscience about what I'm doing. The parade was the nuts. All the school children in town marched, with bands, costumes, etc., militia, etc., clubs, etc., a very long affair. I specialized on the people watching the parade. But the marching children were very touching, all the bright young faces, y'know. First the public schools, then the Catholic schools. There seem to be a lot of Catholic schools in town.

Each school unit carried a banner with its name; some had bands, flags; all the way from very simple to very elaborate. The schools from the poor districts, made up mostly of colored kids (though there seems to be no segregation here) were sort of heart wringing. Poorly dressed brats, tattered banners, no bands. Then the orphanages — some of them with fine looking, uniformed bands, and very nice looking boys & girls. . . .

Well I've got to clear out dearest one. What do you mean by: "I wonder if they ever hear you" (snoring). Are you trying to tell me, in my absence, that I snore? . . . My room here is a $2.50 one, but when the clerk found out yesterday that I was a govt. man, he said he would change the rate. Make it $2.00. He said I should always identify myself as govt. Nice, hey? Not all hotels, however, so recognize Uncle Sam.

I'm off my one. My love,


{ — source: John Vachon's America}
Here are the images. Click to view full size. The first is followed by some detail crops; the rest appear only in full.

Details of this image:

More shots of parade watchers:

Additional information and photos:

John Vachon, photographer
John Vachon's America Photographs and Letters from the Depression to World War II

John Vachon's America
From 1936 to 1943, John Vachon traveled across America as part of the Farm Security Administration photography project, documenting the desperate world of the Great Depression and also the efforts at resistance--from strikes to stoic determination. This collection, the first to feature Vachon's work, offers a stirring and elegant record of this extraordinary photographer's vision and of America's land and people as the country moved from the depths of the Depression to the dramatic mobilization for World War II. Vachon's portraits of white and black Americans are among the most affecting that FSA photographers produced; and his portrayals of the American landscape, from rural scenes to small towns and urban centers, present a remarkable visual account of these pivotal years, in a style that is transitional from Walker Evans to Robert Frank.
Vachon nurtured a lifelong ambition to be a writer, and the intimate and revealing letters he wrote from the field to his wife back home reflect vividly on American conditions, on movies and jazz, on landscape, and on his job fulfilling the directives from Washington to capture the heart of America. Together, these letters and photographs, along with journal entries and other writings by Vachon, constitute a multifaceted biography of this remarkable photographer and a unique look at the years he captured in such unforgettable images.

More details
John Vachon's America: Photographs and Letters from the Depression to World War II
By John Vachon, Miles Orvell
Contributor Miles Orvell
Edition: illustrated
Published by University of California Press, 2003
ISBN 0520223780, 9780520223783
344 pages

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