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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 • NORTH TUSCANY COAST, 1948

Figgy and Leggy: 1938

Figgy and Leggy: 1938

April 27, 1938. "California Fig Ball. Made for Harold Thoreson, California State Society." And you thought fig balls were something Grandma made around Christmas. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.

 

Lots of plants in the photo...

But there are no fig trees!

Mona Lisa Smile

The contrast between the lipstick and the teeth makes it look much more severe; it probably wouldn't look so bad if they weren't grinning. The pretty lady in the front has the right idea.

There are men in the picture...

...but they're invisible (i.e., fig men of your imagination).

Where are...

the men? I wanna see fig men too!

Tropical Washington

The California Fig Ball probably took place in Washington, since the California State Society was, and is, a Washington social organization dedicated to the promotion of California, its attractions and interests. Before World War II, California's economic interests centered on the state's agricultural production, and California figs were one of the state's most important crops. The tropical setting for this publicity photo was probably taken in one of the green houses of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, standing in for the famous semi-tropical climate of Southern California. And, the four charming Fig Ball dancers were probably dismayed when the photo was published, since all that excess mascara and dark lipstick appears to be a clumsy darkroom touch-up to the negative.

[This glass negative hasn't been retouched, or even touched. Making lips (or anything else) darker by manipulating the negative would mean scratching off the emulsion. - Dave]

Those black lips

The super dark lips are most likely the result of the photographer using orthochromatic film, which is completely insensitive to the color red. As a result, red lipstick is rendered as black. The same effect can be seen in some of the flowers on the girls. Early movie actresses never wore red makeup on the set because of this.

[It's more a question of emulsion. This photo was shot on glass, not film. - Dave]

Big Fig

Wonder what the story is on the one on the left. She's older and more chubby and more hidden behind the "fig" leaves. Was she the photographer's wife?

Pre Spandex

Beautiful girls, BAAAAGGGY pants!

The Fig Ball!

Proudly presented by your hosts, Mr. & Mrs. Newton.

Paging Batman

Between the lipstick and the teeth, the girl at the back and the girl on the right resemble the Joker. Freaky.

Taps

They're wearing tap shoes. It's interesting that even the styles of tap shoes change over the years. Some do still wear the kind similar to those in the photo (I remember as a kid it was a big deal when you were good enough to move to full heels), but most (including me in the later years) have moved over to tennis-shoe like ones for most dances/costumes (like the Gregory Hines flat).

No wonder the top gal looks apprehensive

All that bare skin, all those razor-sharp fronds. Where's OSHA?

Hubba, Hubba

Cue the wolf whistle.

Didn't give a fig

What surprisingly dark lipstick! And those girls' eyelashes look like tarantula legs. Someone overdid the Max Factor by about a factor of 10. And none of those leaves are from figs. You'd think they could have at least gotten that right for the Fig Ball!

 
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