What A Wonderful World It Might Be…

I was researching a project last night which led me to this 1930s-40s in Color (Set) on Flickr.  The photo below wasn’t really germane to what I was looking for, but like so many other stream-of-consciousness digressions on the web, it does enjoy an odd synchronicity with so many year-end blog entries I’ve been reading lately.  Namely, how most of us view this first decade of the new millenium as something of a bust.  And no, that’s not my opinion; according to the Pew Research people, that’s a fact (details here).

Of course, the events of the day will always effect how you view things and this Downhill Decade has been lousy with fear.  We kicked off with the Y2K hysteria then quickly plowed into the wrenching impact of 9/11 which cast a long shadow across the national psyche.  On and on, the news presented a steady drumbeat of negativity, from Hurricane Katrina to Islamic fundamentalism to Wall Street venality and even my beloved Irish’ ongoing ineptitude on the gridiron: it’s been a decade rife with fear.

But, to quote John Goodman’s character Gale Snoats in the imminently quotable Raising Arizona, “I would rather light a candle then curse your darkness.”  And so, take a moment and look at this railcar from long ago, snapped by a true American treasure, photographer Jack Delano.  This was just one of a 50-car railroad carnival that traveled the Eastern Seaboard for three decades, starting in 1933.  Delano spotted it at the Vermont State Fair of 1941.  Take a moment and read that strong, confident typeface promising a better experience.  And let’s all take a moment to keep that in mind as a sort-of mental motto as we tumble into this millenium’s second decade.

We can choose to make this a World of Mirth, even should some boneheaded Nigerian try to make it a world of evil and needless brutality.  Mirth can prevail if we will it so.  Joy is a choice.  I choose joy.

And hope this Kelly fella can do something about Notre Dame football.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A Monday Morning Visual Quiz

roundhouseworkerLook closely at this photograph.  Check out the color, the rich lighting and resolution, those freaking awesome goggles.  How old do you think it is?

Would you guess fifty-seven years?  This portrait of a railroad worker taken in the roundhouse of the old Proviso Yard in Chicago exists as part of an online collection in the Library of Congress.  Originally commissioned by the Farm Security Administration, this rare color photograph from 1942 looks like a movie still from some recent period film–probably because we lack any cultural references to relate to a full color snapshot from that era.  As far as I can tell, WWII was fought in grisly black and white, as opposed to the more visceral jungle green and blood red of the Vietnam War newsreels.  That’s just how we’ve always seen it…

What’s even more remarkable is that this entire archive was the vision of a government official.  Roy Emerson Stryker fought in the Great War and later earned a degree in Economics from Columbia.  When he lectured, he would illustrate his talks with his own photography.  Eventually, his Columbia colleague Rex Tugwell left to head the Resettlement Administration, which evolved into the Farm Security Administration.  Roy followed him there, eventually setting up one of the greatest photographic documentary projects in history.  To effectively communicate the hardships the Depression wreaked upon the American heartland and some of the promise of the New Deal, he sent dozens of photographers out on very specific assignments to bring back images which they would feed the press.  By the end of his project, the American public owned 77,000 published prints and 644 color images.

This economist, this manager, this amateur photographer proved to be one of our nation’s finest curators of artistic documentation.  He could just as easily have chosen to be another anonymous bureaucrat, punching the clock and biding his time until his 6pm highball or his twenty-five year gold watch, but not Roy.  His mind didn’t settle for the mundane but imagined something far more vivid.  And because he bothered to think of it, we have a remarkable trove of images that pack an eye-opening empathy.

Do yourself a favor and spend an hour or two with his work by clicking here.  After all, you own these images too.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79