Tuesday, September 11, 2012

summer arts & crafts

This photo is called "Fair Bros. play ground." An anonymous employee of the National Photo Company took it in the summer of 1922.

{Caption: Fair Bros. play ground; date Created/Published: [1922]; medium: 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller; source: Prints and Photographs Collections, Library of Congress. I saw this first on Shorpy}

There's whole lots in this photo to like (click here to view full size). First off, the eyes. You expect eyes in group shots but not so many expressive pairs of them. Next the poses. This is not a Kodak snap but professional work on glass neg. within bellows camera on tripod. Someone grouped the kids and kept them more or less in place while the photog did his laborious best to make an enduring image. Yet it feels, and quite clearly is, spontaneous. No one's nervous about the ungainly apparatus they're fronting; some a few are curious, one's coy, the rest can't be bothered to give it notice. Then there're the swingers. Catching them as he did the camera man achieved something remarkable. This is not easy to do with a cumbersome, sheet negative, view camera. He surely had a lens shutter but with sensitized plate and lens both inevitably slow, the catching of the swingers to freeze motion is remarkably ept, and doing so artistically is much more so. The framing seems banal until you notice that the right swinger is almost entirely out of view. That plus the structures at right lead the eye off the image and you hardly notice that there's also an off frame mysterious something at left as well. And the compositional reference to Da Vinci's Last Supper is certainly unconscious — accidental — but not too subtly present all the same. You can tell by the light that it's noon but not so bright a day that shadows are harsh. The light suffuses the shot nicely modeling the faces. There's lots more to see. Each child is shown to have her or his own personality; none uninteresting. We're in Washington DC and it's 1922. Many of these kids would have black playmates but there would be segregation of races in schools, businesses, and public places like this park and its summer program. Still, it's not like the families of these kids are many notches higher in the ranking of social classes than their black neighbors. The playground is hardscrabble. The boys are mostly barefoot. Nobody's in tatters but there are none of the sailor outfits that uppers put their kids into. I don't know anything about the actual location and the internets are not helpful. What is the "Fair Bros. play ground"? What do you see here? A bit more than a quarter of a century later I could be found in a group like this, 'tho with trees and grass and some tennis courts and a pool as well as the swing set. And we did gimp projects rather than yarn boards. But my feet were bare, the group was mixed ages and sexes as here, and the counselors were not that much older than the participants.

1 comment:

Alan said...

Good post, thanks!