Sunday, August 28, 2011

Please Turn Off Headlights Upon Entering the Drive-In

Early 1950s

Ads top and bottom from 1943 and 1944.

WHEN I WAS GROWING UP in Winston-Salem, NC, the “Drive-In” was thought of as a bit sleazy. Parents didn’t take their kids there, at least not in my town. Plus, it was the place where the “adult” movies were shown, and obviously was where the teenagers went to neck. Add to that— the theatre I knew was in a “not-so-safe” part of town.

Another thing, the ads for drive-in’s were tiny, something a little larger than 2 ” square and of course, in one color. While the big, mainstream movies filled half pages of the week-end paper, the drive-in advertisements were seriously hard to find—sometimes found on the page following the regular movie ads!

When I spotted these ads for a drive-in in Wisconsin, it made me think what living hell it would have been to actually layout and design these things. But, everything comes back around, I guess. It has taken 60 years for these designs to be considered kind of Art Chantry hip.

An AM repost from 2/8/09.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Great Depression in Color

Most photos here are from 1939 - 1940. Click for larger view.

WE ARE SO ACCUSTOMED TO SEEING PHOTOGRAPHS from the Great Depression in black and white that color images are almost unimaginable. From the 1950s back, our history is largely rooted in a monochromatic world, muted variables of black and gray—at least according to our history textbooks and newspapers. Look at the Depression era photos of Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, John Vachon, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks and others—and what we are used to seeing is black and white. Even John Steinbeck’s Depression era novel “Grapes of Wrath” describe the land and situations as bleak. I guess what I am saying is, it’s hard to imagine the Dust Bowl and abject poverty in color. Until now, and the following images of Russell Lee. There is something about color images from that particular time period which brings their misery and plight a little closer to home.

Russell Lee
(1903, Ottawa, Illinois - 1986, Austin, Texas) was an American photographer and photojournalist. His work was in both black and white and in color.

Some background on the FSA: Some years after the collapse of the stock market and America’s economic system in 1929, not unlike what we are going through today, The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was founded as a way to help struggling farmers rebuild. One of the offshoots of that was the photography program, which was started to document and record the poor plight of the farmer and, as they said, “to introduce America to Americans.”

Russell Lee had trained as a chemical engineer, and in the fall of 1936 became a member of the team of photographers assembled under Mr. Roy Stryker for this federally sponsored FSA documentation project. Lee is responsible for some of the iconic images produced during that period, including photographic studies of San Augustine, Texas in 1939, and Pie Town, New Mexico in 1940.

After the FSA was defunded in 1943, and after his own service in World War II, Lee continued to work under Stryker, producing public relations photographs for Standard Oil of New Jersey. Some 80,000 of those photographs have been donated by Exxon Corporation to the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

Lee moved to Austin,Texas in 1947 and became the first instructor of photography at the University of Texas in 1965. He died in 1986.

An AM repost from 3/2/09.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Beautiful Life

Two and a half years ago, artist Lee Godie (1908 - 2008) was the subject of a marvelous retrospective at Chicago’s Intuit Gallery, with the exhibition of her work closing January 3, 2009. The show was titled: Finding Beauty: The Art of Lee Godie (1908 -2008) and was curated by Jessica Moss and David Syrek. Godie called herself a “French Impressionist” and often could be found on the steps of The Chicago Art Institute or outside Neiman Marcus, where the homeless woman was once heard to say: “Would you like to buy some canvases? I’m much better than Cezanne.”

Her photographs, made in a photobooth at the Chicago Trailways Bus Station, were great examples of self-reinvention. Long before Cindy Sherman’s famous and groundbreaking photography, Ms. Godie was using the bus station photobooth to take and create her rare “transformative self-portraits.” There, she was incredibly inventive. She often used artist’s paint to darken or lighten her face; she would dress in costume, change her hair or complete persona. Afterwards, she would paint or draw on the actual photograph to transform it further, perhaps tinting her hair or giving herself ruby red lips.

The photobooth machine at the bus station (where she often slept) would give a sitter the option of receiving a single image of yourself (approx. 4” x 5” photo) or broken into four different smaller ones you had to cut apart to separate.

As an example, look at the one above, titled “Lee in a Camera.” Here, Ms. Godie thought ahead and had to remove herself from the photobooth twice in order to set up this shot. By doing this she was manipulating the photo even further—leaving calculated blank space from which to react later. In this picture, she chose to write on those rectangles. It was smart, inventive and showed that she had a keen knowledge of space.

Lee would have been 102 years old this year. Yes, she was homeless, but lived her life for her art. Given the difficulties of her life, just surviving was an amazing achievement. To make art that people still covet, exhibit and talk about, well, that is even more incredible.

An AM repost from 12/08/08.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

French Criminals, c. 1930

THESE HIGHLY RETOUCHED FRENCH CRIMINALS from the late 1920s to 1930s, are available at Charles Schwartz, LTD., through the online gallery iPhoto Central. Printed in Le Petit Parisien, these montages are from a series of images of French criminals that were reproduced in the tabloid newspaper, where photos of wanted and condemned criminals appeared each day. Name of subject and printing date inscribed in pen verso. Société du Petit Parisien date stamp verso. Prints were hand painted in order to heighten contrast, so that they could be better reproduced in a newspaper. This retouching is attributed to two Italians. From the collection “Juges et Assasins.”

An AM repost from 1-31-09.

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