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Monday, 7 March 2011

John Vachon: Chicago, 1941


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http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a32000/8a32700/8a32751v.jpg

Downtown street scene, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a32000/8a32700/8a32749v.jpg

Downtown street scene, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a32000/8a32700/8a32750v.jpg

Downtown street scene, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: b&w film copy neg. of print

Parking lot, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Coal barge on Chicago River, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Standard station, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

"El" train at station, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

"El" station, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Ohio Street bathing beach, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Public bathing beach, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Movie theatre, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Movie theatre, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Street scene with streetcar, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Coffee shop, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Parking lot, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Parking lot, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a32000/8a32700/8a32753v.jpg

Factory building and parking lot, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a32000/8a32700/8a32752v.jpg

Parking lot, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a32000/8a32700/8a32744v.jpg

Signboard, Chicago, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, July 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

13 comments:

curtisroberts said...

It's funny. My first reaction seeing these just pre-war shots of Chicago (a city I like a lot, which is a great photographer's canvas) is to think how remarkable is photography's "instant" nature. Vachon had a painter's eye and sense of composition, but I think how very long it would have taken him to create this series using oil and brush and what we would have lost not having the large number of images he left us. Plus, photography is a modern technology and these pictures show priceless scenes in a modern city.

TC said...

Curtis,

I couldn't agree more. And a painter would always have the urge to "improve upon" the composition.

In this respect, the Vachon series feels "clean" and neutral, free of affect, free of fondness (and perhaps even of affection -- though how could anyone not have loved that tough nun in the top shot?); yet in this refusal to romanticize there is the reward of the terrific verity of the capture of the surfaces and the moment, without attitude and without prettying-up.

(As it happens, this was the world -- this time, this place -- to which I first opened my dim little peepers, so the feel of familiarity with these images is strong.)

TC said...

(And talking of that worldly-wise-looking nun, the juxtaposition of her with True Confessions on the magazine rack and Morrow's Nut House on the store marquee is pure Vachon, the recursion of text within text within image within... which is almost his trademark.)

curtisroberts said...

That's very well said. I must say that I feel great affection for most of the sights and scenes, including the Chicago Theater. Current Chicago has far more of "my" Manhattan in it than current Manhattan does, which is a queer thing. I wonder if that means that it's lost some of "old" Chicago?

lluvia said...

me gustan esas medias y qué difícil debe ser tenerlas "en línea"..:)

Lightsleeper said...

Chicago must have been very interesting in the '40s, especially if *all* the nuns carried katanas.

Nora said...

I love vintage cars as much as the next girl (especially if the next girl spent her summer evening poring over the Studebaker ads in her grandmother's old Life magazines). But there's something distinctly creepy about those parking lot photos. (The destructive potential of pre-Nader vehicles? The coming suburban sprawl? The price of parts in 2011?)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Amazing Vachon ... a poem in every picture, the intensity of some, so hyper-real, I feel I must look away, before looking back. thanks, Tom

TC said...

Yes, those nuns were indeed formidable, as I learned from experience, at the business end of a straight edge ruler.


Don, "hyper-real" is spot on.


Nora, the thing about John Vachon's parking lot obsession is pretty interesting. Clearly he was interested in the almost comic symmetry of the uniformity and regularity of the cars lined up in the lots. But what on earth he thought was ever going to be done by the FSA with hundreds and hundreds of parking lot shots, it's hard to fathom.


A. comments, "He was just being an artist", and I think she's right about that.

stevef said...

I'm looking in a window at my parents, when they were 17 (Mom) and 13 (Dad). Still have some old photos of them that would be at home in this collection, Vashon or no.

By the time he was 16, Dad had lied his way (agewise) into the Navy, and was there on the USS Butte at the first atomic bomb test in the Pacific. No choice in the matter.

Perhaps because of radiation, or something else sufficiently traumatic, he had a swimsuit like the ones those boys are wearing, until the day he died. And he wore it. Boy, did he. Every chance he got, whether as a semipro waterskiier when younger or just to create mayhem later on. Now I'm wondering whether _I'm_ hanging on to some idea of what any certain item of clothing should look like, based on what I had at 13 or 15, or whatever. The possibilities are many and terrifying.

TC said...

Steve,

I'm hanging on for dear life to ideas like that one, and in fact all of those.

My father tried to lie his way into the Army but couldn't get the blood pressure monitor to conspire, so was sent to do DC-3 designing at Douglas Aircraft (where O'Hare now is). Probably the one piece of good luck he ever had (I don't mean the blood pressure, which in the end proved not much better a fate than being at ground zero in an atomic test).

In any case, yes, of course, as we're evidently from the same approximate age range (geologic epoch) it's not hard for me to identify with that sense of curiosity, distance, familiarity, in looking back through these windows at our parents' possible lives.

(It's what has motivated me to do a lot of amateur archival research these past few years.)

By the by, there are a number of other great Vachon sets in posts accessible through the side links here, under the listing "John Vachon".

Here's one that treats Chicago as a dramatic field of strong lights and subdued shadows.

John Vachon: In the Heartland: Light and Shadow.

(JV was a midwesterner, from Minnesota; to him, I think, Chicago was the template of the Big City.)

stevef said...

TC--

Now that really is weird. After his stint in the Navy, my dad worked at a couple of airplane manufacturers--Douglas and Boeing, I think--first in Kansas and then back in L.A.

At any rate...it really is kind of--what, wistful? something like that--when you have those moments when you realize you're now older than your dad was in your earliest memories of him, and on top of that, he was an actual person before you ever existed and actually didn't come into existence because of you, but vice versa.

TC said...

And weirder still when you realize, as keeps happening with me, that you are now older than your dad ever managed to or was fated to be, which makes you old, and him young, or something... and yet he still knows, or would know, all those things you will never know.

My cousin Buddy got into the Navy and he, too found himself in one of those no-choice-in-the-matter affairs. He was made to jump off the deck of an LST (Landing Ship Transport) into the water. I suppose this was by way of training. But the distance from the deck to the water proved no laughing matter, he broke his back.

Which actually gave him something to laugh about later, because it got him out of the service.