In my nightschool studies of the history of photography, we covered the photographers that Farm Securities Administration (FSA) commissioned to document the American ‘Dustbowl’ crisis of the 1930’s (Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ being the best known example), but I didn’t realise that a similar large scale photographic documentation had taken place during World War 2 of the war effort. I have seen a number of photo websites publish some colour images from this operation, mainly of the women aircraft workers, but I didn’t realise the enormous scale of the undertaking.
With some careful searching I discovered thousands of railway images taken during this period, covering the people, facilities, locomotives, rolling stock and landscapes of the wartime railway. Interestingly, there were quite a lot taken in colour, the scans of which are fabulous. These are some of my favourites, as colour photographs in steam workshops are rare. They are part of a larger series taken in the Chicago workshops of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad.
I’ve had to try and correct the colour casts on these, something that slide film is prone to. Have a look at the originals in the links to see what the originals are like. The negative says Kodak safety film which I’m presuming is a Kodachrome derivative , a new film around this time and one whose archival properties are renown.
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These are awe-inspiring. The mechanical details are fascinating and the glimpse the photographs give into the railways of the time seems to have unusual veracity. I suspect it is the use of colour film and the unusually sharp nature of the images. Your subtle work on the colour cast adds to the atmosphere of the shots.
Thanks Iain, these images really are stunning and they also print out very well (and very large – look great at A2). The online scans are good but have benefitted from a few tweaks to the colour balance and some judicious sharpening.