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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Sunray: 1942

Sunray: 1942

1942. "Worker at carbon black plant. Sunray, Texas." 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by John Vachon. View full size.

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Look at this guy.

Look at this guy. Look into his eyes. Try to understand the fatigue he was feeling. Do you really think he's worried about lung cancer!?

I mean seriously, try to take yourself out of the "I know what's best for you" 2000s, and remember that, long ago, people used to live their lives and work hard every day.


Surprisingly, carbon black exposure is NOT associated with increased risk of lung disease. I was raised in Borger,TX. home of a huge plant. In the fifties and sixties,before regulations,the black covered everything. Even now google the image and you will see the black patch west of the city. I thought all wild animals were coal black until I was twelve. My Dad worked there for many years, is ninety now and no lung disease. As a native and a physician, I investigated the risk from the carbon and confirmed the really is not a risk to health in spite of the look. One speculates that the pure charcoal/carbon may have at worst been neutral and possibly had some protective effect from carcinogens. Unfortunately, most of the men working there also smoked cigarettes and did suffer the consequences to health.

Sunray Carbon Black

I grew up in Fritch, Texas, which is between Amarillo and Borger and not too far from Sunray. My dad worked at the carbon black plant in Borger in the 1950s & '60s. Sometimes we'd pick him up after work. The men would take a shower at the end of the day at the plant, but he could never ever wash ALL of the black off. The "whiteface" cattle in the area always had gray faces. We rarely had a problem with the carbon black getting all the way to Fritch - about 15 miles - but we had relatives in Buenavista, a "suburb" of Borger who had a lot of problems with laundry hanging out, etc. Seemed completely normal at the time to us too but sure seems funny now. Not ha-ha funny but kind of sad funny, I think.

Carbon Black Plant

I grew up in Aransas Pass, Texas in the 1940's and the "Carbon Black Plant" out in the scrub Oak brush just off the coast of Redfish Bay, East of the town, belched dense black smoke constantly . . my neighbors, the Gentry boys, came home from work every day looking just like this fellow . . . a damp rag was required to wipe off our clothesline to remove the black soot before the wash could be hung out. Seemed completely normal at the time!

Print now available!

Here he is. Just the thing to brighten up the den.

Make this one a print!

Make this one a print! Please!
I adore the work of this photographer.


What an astonishing photo; it's got such depth and a kind of coldness. Great find!


I bet he didn't wear a seat belt either. Yikes.

Overloading the lungs

Possibly had some lung-related health issues later in life?

You might want to consider

A mild cleanser. Exfoliant scrub. Moisturizer. And maybe lose the ciggies? I'm just sayin' is all.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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