By John Vachon
Vachon nurtured a lifelong ambition to be a author, and the intimate and revealing letters he wrote from the sector to his spouse again domestic replicate vividly on American stipulations, on videos and jazz, on panorama, and on his task gratifying the directives from Washington to seize the center of the US. jointly, those letters and images, besides magazine entries and different writings through Vachon, represent a multifaceted biography of this awesome photographer and a different examine the years he captured in such unforgettable images.
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Extra resources for John Vachon's America : photographs and letters from the Depression to World War II
Writing from North Dakota in 1942, he complains about the sense of confusion, the loss of purpose, he was feeling: “I’m amazed at the masses of exposed ﬁlm I keep piling up, always knowing that I haven’t been getting anything good. I’m completely losing sight of objectives— 33 Introduction don’t know why in hell I’m out here. I always get good ideas at night, new ways to go about executing them, and during the day everything ﬂops and ﬁzzles” (Vachon to Penny, February 24, 1942). The ongoing war only exacerbates the photographer’s feelings of frustration, as he ﬁnds himself questioned more than once by the local population: why is a seemingly healthy young man loitering about with a camera while the country is ﬁghting a war?
A favorite shot was the intersection, seen at street level—a pedestrian waiting for a light to change or casting a long look across at a gossamer ﬁgure on the opposing street corner—or viewed from overhead, looking down on the abstract patterns of streets and buildings. Again and again—it is a favorite 29 Introduction 30 strategy of Vachon’s—he pictures an intersection or an otherwise deserted space (the stairway of an art museum) with a single ﬁgure crossing it, thus giving us a human presence in the scene: a center of consciousness, as it were, whom we can imagine experiencing it all.
36 Photographic Plates Figure 19 John Vachon, self-portrait, 1945 DURING HIS LONG TENURE as a photographer in the FSA group, Vachon took many thousands of images, only a tiny fraction of which could be reproduced here. Selecting a representative sample was not an easy task. 1 Accordingly, I offer here a broad range of themes—from the rural farm scene to the urban street, from the industrial subject to the portrait, from everyday observations of the social scene to more formal landscapes—and I include as well a range of Vachon’s styles—from candid images to posed, from the subject-centered straightforward composition to the more complex abstract ones.