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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 • STAY ONE JUMP AHEAD OF TROUBLE, 1945

Circleville: 1938

Circleville: 1938

Summer 1938. "Street Scene in Circleville, Ohio. Because of its non-industrial surroundings, retains much of old-time flavor." Reflected in the glass we can see Ben Shahn snapping this picture with his Leica pointed sideways. View full size. 35mm nitrate negative by Ben Shahn for the Farm Security Administration.

 

Sneaky

Some photo supply stores used to sell an attachment that looked like a lens shade for an SLR, that had a 45 degree mirror built in. You could aim the camera at right angles to your subject and shoot through a hole in the side of the "shade." I never used one and always wondered how you'd disguise the fact that your lens shade had a big hole in it!

Sneaky

Twin lens reflex cameras were also useful for unobserved photos. Tucked under an arm they could view people behind the photographer.

Digital cameras with hinged displays also serve the purpose.

Viewfinder

Leitz built the Wintu right-angle viewfinders for the Leica cameras. If you look closely you can see it sitting on top of the camera.

Street Photography

If you've ever tried to do street photography you know how difficult it can be. It's nice to know even Ben Shahn used some of the same tricks I do, although his results are much much better.

The Leica

So the camera was configured to shoot sideways? Does that mean the photographer was pretending to shoot the street so he could get a candid shot of these guys? Sneaky!

[It was a regular 35mm Leica with a right-angle viewfinder. He would just hold it sideways. As for sneaky, maybe, but his subjects don't seem fooled. - Dave]

Sideways?

How do you think he's making the picture? Shahn's left hand is covering the camera, which is pointing somewhere else.

[That's the camera case behind his hand. The lens is just ahead of his thumb, pointed straight at you. - Dave]

Leica pointed sideways?

Can you explain something about his technique? The Leica seems to me to be a normal one, or does it "snap around the corner"? And if so, does that mean Ben Shahn photographed people in a sneaky way, without them knowing he was photographing them?

[It was a regular 35mm Leica camera but with a special right-angle viewfinder, so he could look straight ahead and see his subjects to the left. - Dave]

 
THE 100-YEAR-OLD PHOTO BLOG
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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