Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Photos on the right track

Other books with Delano railroad photos.
Jack Delano took more railroad photos than any other FSA/OWI photographer.  The work in this interesting book was from a long assignment in the Chicago area from November 1942 through February 1943.  More work followed in April and May when he travelled on the Santa Fe freights from Chicago to San Bernardino (over two hundred from that journey are featured in The iron horse at war by James Vale).  Just under half of his rail photos (2,500 mono and 250 color) are from Chicago.

John Gruber, the editor of The railroaders, found an ideal way of connecting Delano's photos from over seventy years ago to contemporary times by finding the decendents of the workers in the original pictures and photographing them, intriguingly by Delano's son Pablo.  I think this idea has only been done once before with Bill Ganzel's Dust Bowl decent published in 1984.  His photo essay book took the original FSA work and he found the same locations and people to photograph in the seventies.  This included Florence Thompson the Migrant mother from Dorothea Lange's famous 1936 photo and Darrel Coble the little boy in Arthur Rothstein's Dust storm in Cimarron County. 

The strength of Delano's photos in the book are the semi-portraits of railroad folk.  Rather than just have shots of freight and military transports out on the main how much better to show the men and women of this industry in their work environment all pulling together in wartime.  The photos must have been reproduced extensively across the country in papers and magazines (they were free to print media).  Chicago, as the center of railroad activity had it all as the Contents reveal: On the trains; At the station; Around the yards. 

Throughout the pages the text provides plenty of detail about how the industry worked in wartime and what the forty-nine featured railroaders jobs involved but there is also  extensive coverage of their domestic life.  While some of this away from the job copy is interesting so much of it is very typical of the average worker's life whether they were making tanks, planes or ships but each industry has specific work practices and in the case of railroads it's this description I found much more informative than a typical worker's home life.

Railroaders is a fascinating look back to a tough time illustrated with powerful images and some of Pablo Delano's photos of the descendants have an extra bit of magic too, because it shows them proudly holding a copy of a photo taken by his father.

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