Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Non-Dull, Non-Gray History

I 'starred' this for later revisiting a long time ago, when I saw it in a couple of places, but I never got around to mentioning it. This must be remedied!

If you haven't, you should really take a look at these color photos taken between 1939 and 1943.

They were in an exhibit at the Library of Congress, and are reposted in larger versions by the Denver Post. There are 70 pictures, mainly of people in small towns or rural settings all over the United States. People working, or at school, at a square dance, at the fair.

They're really pretty amazing to look at. It's a little weird, actually, how amazing it is to me to see the world in color in 1939. You wouldn't think it should be that big a deal.

Because obviously I know the world wasn't black and white at the time even though most of the pictures are. Things had color if you were there.

But years later, not being able to see what color things were, even knowing intellectually that there were all the same common shades we have today, I still sort of think of the whole world being gray in the past. I can't help it. I know it wasn't, but I see it that way, because those are the picture I've seen of it.

So it's really kind of wonderful to see it in color.

What strikes me most, in a way, is the clothing. Look--they had brightly colored patterns on their dresses! Look at that bright red cap!

I think the clothes get me because I can't fill in color for them normally. I mean, I know what colors people are, more or less. When I see skin tones in varying shades of gray, my brain can kind of fill in the varying shades of pink or tan or brown that the picture probably represents in real life.

Also, I know what colors fields and trees and sky are, so I can sort of fill that in too.

But clothing could really be any color, and there's not much of a standard for it, so I think in a way I'm more likely to just leave it gray in my mind.

I guess my default image of the past is fairly normally colored people in relatively normally colored (though kind of drab) landscapes, all dressed in shades of gray. Living in gray houses, with gray furniture.

Seeing fabrics in blue, and purple, and red, and with different-colored flowers, really breaks up that default image in a dramatic way.

It pulls the past a lot closer for me.

Black and white means a long time ago, over on the other side of a line that divides history from now.

Color means, hey, this is actually the exact same world I'm in right now, just not at the same time. People wearing clothes with color, in landscapes with bright color that's not drab at all.

Yeah, you should check out those pictures. As I said, I saw them mentioned in a couple of places, but the one I remember at the moment was Sociological Images, which also has some interesting commentary.


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