Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Yesterday in WV

I commented in my review on the bland quality of the FSA mono photos in so many books. The above is part of a page from Leslie Cabarga's title on typography and design and the two photos clearly show what is possible  even with black and white images.

A very worthwhile photographic look at West Virginia over nine years from 1934 by ten photographers. These were not all formal members of the FSA roster under Roy Strykers guidance. The odd one out is Elmer Johnson who initially worked for Division of Subsistence Homesteads part of the Department of the Interior. He took photos for them in 1934 with his work being added to the FSA files in 1935 when it was created and he became the head of the Photographic Lab until 1937.

Just over a hundred and fifty photos are in the book arranged into eleven chapters. The last one, 'Wartime photo essay', rather intrigued me, the images are from 1942/43, the poverty and desperate times are gone, folks are well dressed and fed and their energies are now focused on the war effort. Because of the extreme poverty in West Virginia, especially among coal miners, the State was lucky enough to have three model communities: Arthurdale; Tygart; Eleanor (obviously named are Mrs Roosevelt who inspired these model homesteads) and forty photos create the positive outlook that Washington wanted from FSA work.
Chapter nine 'Southern coalfields: 1938' has a very telling photo taken by Marion Post Wolcott. It shows what appears to be relatively new but now boarded up homes in the abandoned mining town of Twin Branch, Ford owned the mine but closed it rather than let the thousand miners join a union. The company also refused to sell or rent the deserted homes.
The book's landscape shape works well with the one photo a page format, each has a brief caption with location, photographer, date and Library of Congress catalog number. The last fifty-five pages includes an illustrated essay about the photographers and a useful book list. If you live in West Virginia this will be your visual reminder of how your parents lived.
*This State book of FSA photos shares a common fault with many other State titles I have -- a rather uniform greyness to the photos. There are no real blacks or highlights with the 175 screen printing (on average paper) because the images have had no pre-press work to bring out the quality that is obviously there. Admittedly this would take time and of course push the price up plus the book is more one of record rather than an art photo book but when you have seen remarkable FSA photos get the graphic treatment they deserve you realize how stunning they can look.

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