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Sunday, 27 February 2011

In Your Dreams


Children in front of movie theatre, Alpine, Texas
: photo by Russell Lee, May 1939

Shoveling snow away from the movie entrance, Chilicothe, Ohio: photo by Arthur Rothstein, February 1940

Movie theatre, Elkins, West Virginia: photo by John Vachon, June 1939

Children looking at movie poster in front of theatre
, Saturday, Steele, Missouri: photo by Russell Lee, August 1938

Saturday afternoon movie crowd, North Platte, Nebraska
: photo by John Vachon, October 1938

Flags of the confederacy displayed at movie house on Lincoln's birthday, Winchester, Virginia: photo by Arthur Rothstein, February 1940

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Children at a movie house on Saturday, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania: photo by Jack Delano, January 1941

Movie theatre, Elkins, West Virginia: photo by John Vachon, June 1939

Movie theatre, Moore Haven, Florida
: photo by Marion Post Wolcott, January, 1939

Mexican man in front of movie theatre, San Antonio, Texas: photo by Russell Lee, March 1939

Photos from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress


Anonymous said...

These are all really terrific. The photos with the children looking at the movie stills really remind me of myself and my own childhood. I could look at stills and posters for hours. When I first went to work for CBS/FOX and shown the remnants (and that's all they were) of the Twentieth Century Fox stills and one-sheet archive in Los Angeles, it was both moving and depressing. The archivist told the story of how much material was regarded and discarded as waste -- material of no value -- by Fox (who probably pursued the same practices in this regard as the other film companies). That set up the dichotomy where the studio would alternately pursue people as pirates for copyright infringement purposes and then court those same people as "collectors" when they needed something they no longer had on file. The Vachon shot of the Manos is really magnificent.

Ed Baker said...

you know who's from Beaver Falls? and probably went to that theater... Joe Namath!

and notice all of those bike? not a single one of them chained/locked!

my UTE, too... all day at the Atlas... go in at noon... come out at 6 pm..

3 features, 12 cartoons 2 episodes of a serial Newsreels
comings attractions AND a live stage "thing" wit Officer Bob and prizes if you had the right stub #

and ALL

for about thirty cents ... price depended on your height.

Anonymous said...

Children looking at movie poster in front of theatre, Saturday, Steele, Missouri: photo by Russell Lee, August 1938

The right-hand one has bare feet.


TC said...

The bare feet and the unlocked bikes reflect, as in fact does the FSA photo project itself, a gone time.

These particular photos are among my favourites of the 160,000 black & white shots in the FSA archive. One could do worse than spend the rest of one's days in those memories.

Russell Lee, who saw that clean, barefoot country boy on that hot August day in Missouri, was from the Midwest and was particularly sensitive to the scenes he found in the great interior parts of the country Easterners had never seen.

(And by the way The Cowboy and the Lady, the marquee film in the top shot here, features Gary Cooper playing exactly the character limned by Manny Farber as the "older type of hero" in American celluloid mythology.)

I love Arthur Rothstein's stark shot of the movie house on the snowy steppes of Ohio, where Balalaika is playing -- a movie of leaden, world-saving social purpose, in its way wonderfully reflective of the historical moment, with Nelson Eddy breaking out into The Song of the Volga Boatmen halfway through.

Rothstein's strong foot on the social pedal also lends real power to his image of the flags of the confederacy flying on Lincoln's birthday in Winchester, Virginia, with no one paying any mind.

And Curtis mentions the great Manos shot... John Vachon, also a Midwesterner, saw things with a particular kind of oblique scrutiny that make his photo-shoots stand out in the archive. He noticed that there were two movie theatres in Elkins, West Virginia, and that both doubled as gambling halls when not showing movies.

This was part of the larger purpose of the FSA project, to capture the "feel" of those times.

(On one trip to Oklahoma City Dorothea Lange noted four movie theatres clustered within a few blocks, all populated in the day time by the unemployed.)

Anonymous said...

I don't think a gambling hall is the same as either a casino or an OTB shop. What is it? And why did they need two, do you think?


Anonymous said...

One could do worse than spend the rest of one's days in those memories.

Yes, indeed. Did you see, above the Manos movie theatre, the Roosevelt Beauty Shoppe?


TC said...


Yes, and I'd wager John Vachon saw it too.

He had an eagle eye for signboard, placard and other public-place inscriptions, and made remarkable use of the complexities of what I suppose is now called semiotics, in his photographic work.

This sensitivity is to some degree common among all the better FSA photographers, I think.

Note for example, in the shot below that one, the potential for irony in the Pennies from Heaven advertisement outside the rather shabby theatre in Moore Haven, Florida, captured by Marion Post Wolcott (a single woman who rather bravely drove all round the South in her big convertible, taking photos for the FSA in some of the poorest communities in what was then a very depressed region).

TC said...

Artur, as to your earlier question, John Vachon's notes from that trip to Elkins, West Virginia (a depressed mining area) specify that there are two movies in town; to drum up trade on slack nights both offer games of chance, "win a dollar", three nights a week.

TC said...

And I should have said that Marion Post, while driving round the South for the FSA, was not YET Marion Post Wolcott, but still just Marion Post; shortly thereafter she married, and as her husband was in the diplomatic service, followed him off round the globe (I believe he was an ambassador to Iran).

Her great camera work can be found in many posts on this blog, here are just two:

At the Fair (III): Jockey Street/Juke Joint

Marion Post Wolcott/T.S.Eliot: Goin' for a Ride in the Wasteland

TC said...

And while we're at it, for those who'd like to see more of some of the other photographers whose work appears in this post... here's Russell Lee:

Only Here: Russell Lee in the West (1940-1942)


Russell Lee: Boom Town

Russell Lee: Everything Must Go

Russell Lee: Mays Avenue Camp, Oklahoma City, 1939

Russell Lee: Riches (Along the Million Dollar Highway)

Russell Lee: Saturday Night in the Nature Theatre

Russell Lee: Streetcar Terminal, Oklahoma City, 1939

Russell Lee: The Middle of Nowhere (A Texas High Plains Survey, 1940)

TC said...

And John Vachon:

John Vachon: Immunity

John Vachon: In the Heartland: Flight

John Vachon: In the Heartland: Fruits of the Plain

John Vachon: In the Heartland: Granary

John Vachon: In the Heartland: Shadow and Maze

John Vachon: In the Heartland: Winter

John Vachon/Lorine Niedecker: In the Condensery

John Vachon: Migrants, Michigan

John Vachon: Signs and Wonders

Jack Delano:

Jack Delano: At the May Day Pageant, Siloam, Georgia

Jack Delano: Freaks (The Rutland Fair, Vermont)

Jack Delano: Funeral in Georgia

Jack Delano: Hard Times in the Mill (A Death in Georgia)

Jack Delano/Jack Kerouac: Textile Town

Jack Delano: Saturday Afternoon in Greensboro, Georgia

Jack Delano: The Remains (Heard County, Georgia)

Jack Delano/William Empson: Desolation

Arthur Rothstein:

Arthur Rothstein: A Sign of the Times

Arthur Rothstein: Butte, Night

Arthur Rothstein: Death in Matamoros

Arthur Rothstein: Submarginal: Arkansas, 1935

Anonymous said...

Fantastic. Now I can just press a button on my machine and come to your links. Thanks, Tom.

I feel like rushing round taking pictures of signage. Ah, it's not so interesting anymore, it's the same wherever you go... but I'll bet they told Marion the same thing. It just needs ten or twenty years to mature. Perhaps we ought to take pictures of gas stations. Do you know Martin Parr's work, by the way? If not, take a look around his blog, or just google him.


TC said...

I was not, but now am. Many thanks, Artur.

Martin Parr certainly does get around (from Kenya to Cardiff, Moscow to Macchu Picchu), and the capture of the variety of life is remarkable.

About the food photos in the top post, someone here says, "I wouldn't know whether to eat those dishes, or have them encased in plastic!"

Ed Baker said...

that Vachon?Niedecker 'connect' .... NEAT!

here is a link that will get (those who are interested) to
a Major LN site...

Anonymous said...

I ought to have said that what made me think of Martin Parr was a book he made of his collection of Boring Postcards. The postcards are pictures of Britain in the early sixties: a provincial bus station, the first motorway cafeteria, and that kind of thing. Apparently he subsequently made books of the same thing in the US and Germany, but I haven't seen them and anyway they wouldn't be so evocative for me.

TC said...


Yes, I see now. The historic genre of the tourist postcard has been waiting all these several aeons for the Martin Parr it deserves.

And here, speaking of historic genres, to follow up on your astute suggestion, "perhaps we ought to take pictures of gas stations..."

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm the administrator of a blog dedicated to Mexican silent cinema and would love to reproduce the last picture of this post in my blog. The one of the Mexican in front of a cinema. By the way, all the pictures are fantastic. I apologize for my limited English.

TC said...

Yes, that's fine. It's in public domain.