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About the Photos

Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • NORTH TUSCANY COAST, 1948

Army Mechanic: 1942

Army Mechanic: 1942

June 1942. Fort Knox, Kentucky. "A good job in the air cleaner of an Army truck. This Negro soldier, who serves as truck driver and mechanic, plays an important part in keeping Army transport fleets in operation." View full size. 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer for the Office of War Information.

 

But the subject

1942 and they still feel it necessary to point out his color. Had the subject been white, I doubt more than his name would have been cited. Perhaps the authors sought to popularize the idea of enrolling amongst the Negro population, many of whom were questioning how patriotism and Jim Crow could co-exist. But volunteer they did, in droves, while the Tuskeegee Airmen were heaped with well deserved praise, American Blacks served in all branches with distinction. My dad owed his life to an African American soldier who dragged him into a foxhole during a Japanese attack.(Thank you Walter, I wish I knew your last name.)

Wow

If it weren't for the date on the bottom of this photograph, I would have thought this shot was taken a lot more recently. I didn't know that older photographs could look so vibrant.

Kodachrome

Original Kodachrome was known for its bright and posterish colors, fine grain and stability. I have 50 year-old Kodachrome slides that are as bright as the day they were taken, while a good many of my Ektachromes from that time have faded to red. As fine as 35mm slides were, 4X5 transparencies are incredibly detailed, just because they are big. Kodachrome was reformulated and introduced as Kodachrome II in 1961. It was ASA 25 and had more accurate color than the original, but retained its fine grain and stability. When I shoot film these days, though (mostly in one of my old 3D cameras), I prefer Kodak Elite because of its brighter colors.

Kodachrome

Kodachrome was a very special film in my estimation. When I was serious about photography years back I shot some with the Kodachrome that was available at the time (25 and 64) and was always stunned by the quality of the colour. Most of the time I shot Ektachrome (cost and film speed considerations) and Kodacolor for prints and there was no comparison between them - Kodachrome won every time.

Amazing!

I've yet to see anything coming out of a digital camera that looks like this. This image, and the other Kodachrome images on this site simply achieve the vibrant colors of the skin, the fabric, and the texture of shiny metal .. and worn industrial parts that transports the viewer to a different time and place .. with a realism that evokes a feeling lacking in modern two dimensional images .. it certainly changes everything I've come to know and appreciate with digital capture.

We all travel different roads in photography, perhaps the digital highway is not as scenic as that already traveled with film.

4x5 Kodachromes

Robcat asked if this was a posed or studio photo. As mentioned above the photo was on location. The 4x5 inch size Kodachrome 10 film was usually used in a Speed Graphic camera with individual "cut film holders." A sheet of film was placed into the holder whilst the loader was inside the darkroom. A "dark slide" was slipped across the open side of the film holder to protect the negative. When the photographer was ready to make the picture, the "dark slide" was pulled out and usually placed into a pair of spring clips on the back of the ground glass shield of the camera. Then the camera lens was cocked, the various exposure settings were calculated, and the photograph framed in the viewfinder. Then the photo was made by tripping the shutter release. The dark slide was then replaced and the film holder removed by sliding outward to the right. It was then placed into the photographer's pouch on the side reserved for "exposed." The dark slide had a black stripe on the side so that you could look at the holder and determine if the film had been exposed. Unless you forgot to flip the slide around from the black stripe to the silver stripe and vice versa. Next, during the actual exposure of the picture, most times, a #25 flashbulb was used; the Speed Graphic had a tubular flash holder and reflector. This was called "fill-in flash" and was used to eliminate deep shadows, which Kodachrome 10 didn't particularly portray (there would be a black muddle). Remember also that the film was "ASA 10" Speed. Today we use the ISO system, and your usual digital camera exposes at about an ISO 200 rating. ASA 10 is many times "slower" than an ASA 100 film, which would have been Black and White, since there were no high speed color films in those days. The granularity ("grain") of Kodachrome 10 in 4x5 inch size makes possible huge enlargements upwards of 5 feet by 8 feet in size. You will notice that these photos are amazingly "clear" and have a robust depth to them. This is due in part to the very fine grain of the film and the fact that it was done with large format film. An equivalent in a modern digital camera would be about a 25 to 50 megapixel image. There were larger format cameras, up to 11x14 behemoths. Almost always, the negatives from 5x7, 8x10 and 11x14 inch view camera were "contact printed," that is the transparency was placed on top of the photo paper and held down with a sheet of glass (usually an old window pane). Then light from the enlarger or the room lights wold be flashed on and off for a second or two. Once you see a contact print made from a fine grain 8x10" Kodachrome 10 which was processed to a negative rather than a positive, you will not be able to take your eyes off of it. Stunning in its depth. I used to do certain types of laboratory photos while I was in the US Army and used a Sinar 8x10 view camera. Today, you couldn't afford to buy the film for it .. something like $25 per sheet for a color negative film. Hope anecdote helps .. I've been a photographer for a little more than 50 years. I use a Canon Rebel digital now and it is the Cat's Meow, to be sure!

Studio?

Maybe this has been asked before, but would this have actually been a studio shot? The smooth blue background makes me wonder.

[Outdoors. All of these were on location. The OWI and FSA programs were documentary photography, if not exactly candid. A lot of the large-format Kodachromes were posed and used auxiliary lighting. But the people in them weren't models and weren't in studios. - Dave]

Motor Mechanic

A much better job than being shot at, and directly transferable to civilian life.

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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