Most Americans are familiar with the black-and-white photographs commissioned during the Depression era by the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information. Dorothea Lange’s portraits for the FSA from the Dust Bowl are national icons.
Less well known are FSA and OWI color photographs from that era — among the first color photographs produced using Kodachrome transparency film, which Eastman Kodak introduced in 1935.
A new exhibition at Haverford College brings the color photos to light. Most have never been previously exhibited as paper prints. (They exist as positive color transparencies, and these prints are newly made from digital scans of the originals.)
The exhibition title is a mouthful: "FSA/OWI Collection from Library of Congress: America Photographed in Color 1939-1943.”
But don’t let that stop you.
The 50 prints on view at Haverford’s Atrium Gallery were selected from a Library of Congress collection of 1,616 color slides and transparencies from FSA and OWI. Haverford photography technician Daniel Burns made the digital scans and the prints.
The photos — by Russell Lee, John Vachon, Louise Rosskam, John Collier Jr., Marion Wolcott Post, Alfred Palmer, Lewis Hine, Andreas Feininger, Jack Delano, and others — are very much in the realm of documentary photography, as they were meant to be.
A few of them, including Post’s Southern storefronts and Delano’s photograph of a malaria poster from Puerto Rico, anticipate the color-photography-as-art movement that William Eggleston and Stephen Shore pioneered in the 1960s and ’70s.
Through April 28 at Atrium Gallery, Marshall Fine Arts Center, Haverford College, 370 Lancaster Ave., Haverford, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 610-896-1267 or haverford.edu/fine-arts/exhibitions.
Early color photographs are also the template for the works of Chinn Wang, one of the three winners of the Print Center’s 93rd International Competition, though they’re employed in an entirely different way.
Wang was chosen from more than 450 applicants by José Diaz, chief curator of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and Lisa Sutcliffe, a curator at the Milwaukee Art Museum. She makes color screenprints from photographs taken of her mother in the 1960s, shortly after she emigrated to the United States from Hong Kong.
Wang’s digital manipulations push her images to near-abstraction, but they’re still recognizable as outdoor places where her mother was photographed. She has carefully deleted her mother from each scene, though, leaving only her shadow.
Wang also tapes cut sections of prints together with what appears to be ordinary household tape.
Her intention — to highlight her mother’s status as a woman, a scientist, and an immigrant in this country at this particular time — is sublimely told in these seemingly ephemeral works.
Through March 30 at the Print Center, 1614 Latimer St., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-735-6090 or printcenter.org.
Documentary color photography has become increasingly revealing of people’s troubles, rich or poor (and rarely in-between).
Philadelphia photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge has attracted attention with his disturbing series “Kensington Blues,” about the opioid epidemic in that neighborhood.
An exhibit at Drexel University’s Paul Peck Alumni Center shows many of his new works from 2018, along with earlier images. The newer material includes subjects in groups, and at more distance from the earlier portraits.
A recent video of Stockbridge’s follows one individual’s recovery from opioid addiction, and is heartening. I hope to see this artist branch out, though. To me, the Kensington images are beginning to feel tired.