Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Here are some details from an image I showed a few days ago, Russell Lee's FSA photo called Negro cabaret, taken in April 1941.

First, the photo — again — with the caption given it at the time. As always, click to view full size.

Here are the detail images that I find interesting:

1. The girls, of course, the ostensible subject of the photo, most of whom seem to be just putting in their day's work.

2. The band, giving their work a bit more concentration than the girls, but not seeming to be any happier.

3. The paying customers who are see at the stage-side tables — most appearing to be white and light-skinned (in those times when lightness conveyed more social advantage than it does now). I like the held hands in the first image of this group and the broom in the last. It's curious that many are drinking beer; that's not what we'd expect from what we see in contemporary movies that show the night club scene. It does seem, though, that the beer bottles are more prevalent the farther removed the tables are from front-and-center.

4. Those off the front and above.

Curious, isn't it, that no one is smiling?

Some links:

1. Wikipedia's article on Slumming. It's hard to say whether the white patron's are doing this or are just out for a night's entertainment at a place they can afford. I suspect the latter. There's more on this subject in an illustrated book called Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940 by Chad C. Heap (University of Chicago Press, 2009).

2. A review of a book of photos and articles about Chicago's South Side at this time: Bronzeville: Black Chicago in Pictures, 1941-1943 - Book Review

3. A book on the work of Russell Lee and the other FSA photographers in Chicago and downstate: Chicago and downstate: Illinois as seen by the Farm Security Administration by Robert L. Reid, ed. by Larry A. Viskochil (University of Illinois Press, 1989)

Note: All photos are from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection of the Prints and Photos Division of the Library of Congress.

No comments: