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Wednesday 7 December 2011

Carl Mydans: In the Shadow of the Capitol, 1935 (I): Dwelling


Once with happier surroundings, this section now houses a large crowded Negro population living in most unsanitary conditions, Washington, D.C.

Slums near the Capitol, Washington, D.C. With the Capitol clearly in view, these houses exist under the most unsanitary conditions; outside privies, no inside water supply and overcrowded conditions

Old wooden shacks on left of picture inhabited by whites and Negroes. Many of these houses have no inside water supply or toilet. Washington, D.C.

One of few available houses for rent. Washington, D.C. One of the few available houses for rent under the crowded conditions. A study of the structure, however, will explain why there is no one now living in it

Negro backyard near Capitol, Washington, D.C. Negro children have just discovered the cameraman and are concerned at his presence

Alley dwelling near Union Station, showing crowded, tiny backyards. Washington, D.C.

Alley dwelling near Union Station, showing crowded, tiny backyards. Washington, D.C.

Slum front yard playground, Washington, D.C. Such is the front yard available to these two youngsters to play in

Front of Negro home near Capitol, Washington, D.C. Interiors of these homes vary little. A chair or two and a table, a bed and perhaps an extra mattress on the floor to care for six to ten people

Backyard of Negro dwelling in slum area near the House office building, Washington, D.C.

Kitchen of Negro dwelling in slum area near House office building, Washington, D.C.

Privy near Capitol, Washington, D.C. This outbuilding leaks and drains on land about it. Negro inhabitants appear oblivious to it all. No door to this privy, but a sheet of canvas which is seldom used

Backyard and privy near Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. The pump on the right supplies water for the house back of privy

Typical privy in slum section of Washington, D.C.

A once proud section, Washington, D.C. These houses now are overcrowded with a Negro population and greatly in need of more sanitary methods

Slum backyard, Washington, D.C

Photos by Carl Mydans for U.S. Resettlement Administration, September 1935 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress


TC said...

For more of the work of Carl Mydans:

Carl Mydans: Unknowable Communities

Carl Mydans: Narrow Street / Samuel Beckett: neither

Anonymous said...

One of the things that strikes me about these photos, perhaps in a somewhat banal way, is how they visualize the ill-fitting aspects of poverty. I'm thinking in terms of (secondhand, at best clothes), that fall from the shoulders and/or drape too low to the ground, and that defy pretenses of decorum and attentions to detail; or wooden fence posts weather-worn beyond any reasonable utility; walls desiccated by neglect that don't so much provide privacy as they do reminders of where you're at. Poverty, it seems is an ill-fitting reality we've never found a proper place for. For this, history has shown, there are recurring repercussions.

fred hass said...

And since 1960 our government has spent $16 trillion dollars on programs to alleviate poverty and we have the same percentage of our population in poverty as in 1960.
What my we conclude from that?

Hazen said...

“Poor whites, Georgetown, Washington, D.C.”

What a transformation. The “poor whites” are gone to some decrepit elsewhere, but those houses in the background, where said “poor whites” are playing and hanging out, are still there and cost mucho bucks these days, Georgetown being an historic district and all, an address much coveted by the power elite. One could probably say the same for buildings in Northeast, around the Capitol. This scam was once passed off as urban renewal, when it was really urban displacement. The great churning of property . . . Thanks for the reminder, Tom.

Marcos Mateu said...

Extraordinary shots for an extraordinary blog. I love this graphic documents that, despite being from not too long ago, are already so hard to find unless someone does the job of putting them together for all to learn and enjoy.

Marcos Mateu said...

Btw, who did the beautiful animal sketches on the side bar?

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

These reminded me of the run-down rooming house my family lived in from 1948-1955—on the floor above a tavern owned by a Greek relative on the main street of a town that was once one of Washington State’s most infamous—primarily because it had more taverns per foot than any other town and because of its numerous “bawdy” houses.

We were the only family—three rooms—the rest of the rooms on the first floor were rented out to bachelors of various ages but all on the skids, so to speak and of course only one communal toilet.

Not a healthy environment in which to grow up, so why do I have such good memories of it?

TC said...

Thanks for great comments from everyone. Moving words.

There's a stark collision of worlds, world views, and just-plain "views" in this shadow-of-the-Capitol drama.

That ominous roominghouse-stairway interior, when I found it, was the signal that keyed me in on this image search.

Having discovered that shot, and reflecting then upon the dark inner-sanctum descent it suggested, I went through the original Carl Mydans "Lots" (the image groups -- over a hundred images have survived in this "Lot", preserved in the archive in random fashion, so that the ordering as we now have it was my own editing-selection); one thing led to another, and... here we are.

Marcos, I had been waiting for three years for somebody to ask that question!

The marginal animal-totem drawings were done by me. They come from a little book I did in 2000. Some more of them (and some of the poems they were done to accompany) can be found here:

Tom Clark: from Cold Spring: A Diary

TC said...

There's this odd question I find myself asking myself sometimes.

"Would Americans be less horrible if they had..."

And then I fill in the ellipsis with something Americans don't have. Taste. Modesty. Class. You know, "whatever..."

Recently the variori came to include:

"Would Americans be less horrible if they had... a national epic?"

And the thought hit me, Oh no, they do... and it's the narcissistic national epic being writ a million times a second on cellphone cameras.

Hiawatha's Photographing.

(That thought didn't help.)

But here's the funny thing, there is in fact and indeed an American national epic. It's hidden away in the 161,600 negatives of the collection from which the photos on this post, and the one below it, came. I say hidden away, but I mean readily accessible.

(Unless the traffic gets too congested, that is... what with Justin Bieber and Jacques Derrida crowding the aisles...)

Ed Baker said...

that's the D.C. neighborhood that i grew up in...

Georgetown? even in the 50's along the water-front

slave auction houses... slaves bought/sold & shipped down south
to harvest tobacco and cotton

as for "where did the 'poor white' trash go?"

they moved into tick-tacky houses/apartments in Takoma Park & Wheaton.

I'm w "Hazen" he/she must live in D.C.

Ed Baker said...

pee est..

to make it clear I didn't grow up
in Georgetown

even in the 50's too expensive..

we bought a grocery business on 7 th Street, N.E. between F Street and G Street

this area is now called "Capitol Hill" and

621 7 th Street N. E. twas "Herb's Market" a DGS.

the store (which was in the row house)
last time I heard

sold for around $450,000 ! I am sure since the crash
the property is now worth about 1/2 that.

My dad didn't buy the house when he could have bought it for around $6,000

he bought one up closer towards Georgetown... for $12,000

our first store that I was alive in was way over in N.e> up around The NTS nearly out to Bladensburg/Peace Cross

that area was REALLY where the poor white trash/blacks lived...

some few "got out"

went to junior college became accountants or
got government jobs as janitors

some few got rich staring Garbage pick up businesses
or by buying up those run-down properties and painting them and reselling them ...

TC said...

Thanks, Ed. Yes, I too appreciated Hazen's local knowledge. And this was not the first time. Nor, for that matter, the first place.

The normal run of the cognoscenti is one thing, but... to have a beautiful and exotic European movie star visiting one's blog under cover like that... well, let's simply say it's quite an honour. And leave it at that.

For now.