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Zell Hall: 1942

Zell Hall: 1942

February 1942. "Zell, South Dakota. Community hall." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Office of War Information. View full size.


Oddly satisfying

What a comforting picture for one with a slight case of OCD and also given to mild melancholia. I'm not saying that's me, but ... at any rate, the glorious symmetry! The shapes! The shadows! The starkness! The only thing that would have made it perfect would be if they'd put a matching set of steps leading to the double doors on the right. You can't have everything ... but why didn't they? Or did they, and the stairs were later removed, or fell apart?

Real, fake, or aggrandisement?

I wonder how great a building is hiding behind such great a front.

Mystical symbolism?

I am struck by the images in the crumbling plaster on the outside wall. Like Rorschach tests, they might mean different things to others. Kinda like monsters or figures in the clouds!

Travelin' Man

Vachon sure covered a lot of ground. Although the distances aren't great by today's standards, driving in those pre-Interstate days during the winter could have been a real adventure. According to letters he wrote to his wife, during part of 1942 he was in:

August 11 -- Duluth MN
February 2 -- Cape Girardeau MO
February 3 -- Poplar Bluff MO
February 5 -- Neosho MO
February 10 -- Mendota IL
February 27 -- Hebron ND
February 28 -- Bismarck ND
March 2 -- Williston ND
March 30 -- Butte MT

John Vachon Interview

A brief audio clip and transcript of a 1964 interview with John Vachon can be found
on this website.

Vachon was certainly one of the finest photographers in the FSA group.

My Favorite Photographer

Of all the photographers of the era, John Vachon is my favorite. His photos stand out both artistically and technically. Framing, tonal quality, contrast. He had a knack for capturing an image. And that doesn't even take into account his subject matter, which is varied and interesting. He was not a trained photographer. Originally from Minnesota, Vachon started out with the Farm Security Administration as a temporary clerk in Washington, DC, maintaining "The File," as it was known — the collection of pictures made by the other roving photographers of that era. He showed interest in photography and borrowed a colleague's camera and took pictures around the DC area that were good enough to get him a job with the FSA traveling around the country photographing everyday life in America. Vachon served in the Army from 1944 to 1945 and afterward did freelance for such entities as Life and Look magazines. He achieved real notoriety with his photos of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio in 1953. Vachon died of cancer in 1975 at the age of 60.

Step on Up

... or not.

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