The WPA

I had a rather interesting first job when I graduated from college. I worked a 1pm to 9pm shift putting together a tax magazine. The job was unusual in so many respects. I was like a medical resident. When they needed me, I was there. One day I’d be out reporting all day long and returning to the office at 3pm to start work. Other days, I’d sit around and do nothing for hours. Well, not really nothing. But nothing work related.

This was my beginnings with photography, you know when things got really out of control.  LOL.  I would spend all day looking at different pictures, different images just to figure out what I liked and what my aesthetic was.  My style at that time was kind of “point camera, take picture.”  I looked at so many images all day.  I was constantly getting ideas too about photographs I wanted to take.

One day I saw these pictures taken during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration, the WPA.  This was a government agency created to get artists back to work and this entire WPA aesthetic was created.  The aesthetic was modern and straightforward, not too much ornamentation.  I really liked it from the first time I saw it.  I particularly liked the color photos I saw done by the WPA.  There’s a set taken by the Farm Security Administration that I particularly love.  It’s like an encyclopedia of America life during the Depression.  What is the most remarkable is that most of the pictures are in color.  Looking at color pictures of the past can feel kind of strange.  We’re used to past being portrayed in black and white and seeing it in color is kind of jarring because you forget it was in color back then.  It’s all been in color all along obviously but when you see it in color, you think — that looks like now but why are all cars so old and the clothes and hairstyles so old fashioned and out of date?  

The pictures from that era too are marvels of technique.  They look so true to life because the cameras they were taken with were had such good optics and tone reproduction.  Everything is beautifully rendered.  You feel like you are right there with them.

Recently, I took my trusty Lubitel out for a walk around the neighborhood and inadvertently took my own WPA style photos around my neighborhood.  I guess in a way I’m also documenting what my neighborhood looks like now.  It won’t look this way in ten or twenty years.  But photography captures that and that is the magic of the whole thing.  Here are some examples of that:

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