Posts Tagged ‘B-17F bomber

16
Oct
13

‘The War at Home: Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information Color Photographs’ by Alfred Palmer Part 1

Kodachrome sheets 1941 – 1943

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This is the first of a two-part posting on the large format Kodachrome colour transparency photographs of the American photographer Alfred Palmer taken during 1941-43. I absolutely adore these photographs. While today they might seem overly posed and almost surreal in their depiction of men and women at work in the factories of the home front during the Second World War, these are epic canvases of colour, light and form. While Eugène Atget’s photographs may well have been “Documents for artists”, I believe that Alfred Palmer’s photographs can be seen as “Documents for photographers.” They teach later generations the value of craft, of an understanding of the technical aspects of the medium (both camera and film) coupled with the imaginative use and capture of light, colour and pose. Look at the photograph Noontime rest for an assembly worker at the Long Beach (October 1942, below) – have you ever seen such use of colour in the 1940s: red socks, blue slacks, beige shirt, green lunch box and silver background. Like one of those old films in Technicolor, just so beautiful!

While these photographs are masterpieces of formalism, lighting, tone, texture and control, they also transcend their subject matter. Observe the image P-51 “Mustang” fighter plane in construction, at North American Aviation, Inc., in Los Angeles, California (c. 1942, below) for example, to comprehend how this master photographer saw this image, how he understood the potential of the subject matter to shine (on so many levels) and then was able to capture it and let it speak for itself. Considering the conditions under which he would have been working (in cramped factories) and the fact that he would have had to light everything himself, Palmer has recorded a remarkable body of work. All captured on the wonderful Kodachrome film in large format 4″x5″ sheets. What a loss to photography this film is.

These photographs deserve to be more widely known and appreciated than they are at present. Love em, love em, love them!

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Library of Congress for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. No known copyright restrictions on any of the photographs.

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Alfred Palmer. 'P-51 "Mustang" fighter plane in construction, at North American Aviation, Inc., in Los Angeles, California' c. 1942

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Alfred Palmer
P-51 “Mustang” fighter plane in construction, at North American Aviation, Inc., in Los Angeles, California
c. 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC

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Alfred Palmer. 'A view of the B-25 final assembly line at North American Aviation's Inglewood, California, plant' Photo published in 1942

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Alfred Palmer
A view of the B-25 final assembly line at North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California, plant
Photo published in 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC

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Alfred Palmer. 'B-25 bomber plane at North American Aviation being hauled along an outdoor assembly line. Kansas City, Kansas.' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
B-25 bomber plane at North American Aviation being hauled along an outdoor assembly line. Kansas City, Kansas.

October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Servicing an A-20 bomber, Langley Field, Va.' July 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Servicing an A-20 bomber, Langley Field, Va.
July 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'P-51 "Mustang" fighter in flight' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
P-51 “Mustang” fighter in flight, Inglewood, California, The Mustang, built by North American Aviation, Incorporated, is the only American-built fighter used by the Royal Air Force of Great Britain
October, 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC)

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Alfred Palmer. 'Sunset silhouette of a flying fortress, at Langley Field, Virginia, in July, 1942' July 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Sunset silhouette of a flying fortress, at Langley Field, Virginia, in July, 1942
July 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC)

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Alfred Palmer. 'Light tank going through water obstacle. Fort Knox, June 1942' June 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Light tank going through water obstacle. Fort Knox, June 1942
June 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Tank crew standing in front of M-4 tank, Ft. Knox, Kentucky, June, 1942' June, 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Tank crew standing in front of M-4 tank, Ft. Knox, Kentucky, June, 1942
June, 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC)

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Alfred Palmer. 'Army tank driver at Fort Knox , Kentucky' June 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Army tank driver at Fort Knox, Kentucky
June 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Lieutenant "Mike" Hunter, Army pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Lieutenant “Mike” Hunter, Army pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(Alfred Palmer/LOC)

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Alfred Palmer. 'Lieutenant 'Mike' Hunter, Army test pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Lieutenant ‘Mike’ Hunter, Army test pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred T. Palmer 1906 – 1993

“Born in San Jose, California, Palmer was an avid photographer from an early age, meeting the young Ansel Adams in Yosemite in 1916. He was hired on as a cadet on the Dollar Lines President Monroe. He was 19 years old. This would be the first of his 23 trips around the world in the next 32 years. Palmer became the official photographer and worked aboard Dollar Line, Matson and Moore-McCormack Lines ships around the world shooting 100s of images with his Graflex camera. He would trade with other crew members for daytime shifts so he could go ashore and photograph everything he saw.

In 1938, he packed cameras and darkroom equipment into his car and set out across America documenting everything that captured his interest from cows and pigs and corn to towns, cities, people and industry. He would develop the film in the bathrooms of the tourist homes and auto courts every night. He sold the negatives for a dollar each for use in educational books. He made contact prints of each one which are included in his vast portfolio of work.

In 1939 when Hitler attacked Poland the United States ranked twentieth as a world military power. In June of 1940 President Roosevelt and Congress passed a bill for the building of a major two ocean navy. At that time Roosevelt formed the National Defense Advisory Commission of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Palmer was chosen to head the photography department. To rally and inform citizens about the use of their tax dollars and resources, Palmer was sent out to photograph Americans building what Roosevelt termed the Arsenal of Democracy. Aware of the power of mass media, the OEM wanted to provide images which would vividly convey their story in high contrast photos for magazines and newspapers. At the OEM, Palmer’s boss, Robert Horton, would brainstorm assignments, sending him into restricted industrial and military facilities. Once in the field, Palmer worked independently. He developed a style of quickly seeing the picture and catching the essence. Through this style he was able to convey the gritty texture and geometry of industrial form combined with the strong emotion of men and women attentive to their work. His dramatic tonal ranges and sharp focus approach reflect the early influence of his mentor, Ansel Adams.

In 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Palmer became official photographer for the newly formed Office of War Information (OWI). He also served as technical expert with final say on photographic equipment and processes. Now his images had to illustrate all aspects of the war effort, from industrial workers to conservation of resources and citizen participation. Palmer’s emphasis was on the typical American hard at work on the home front. His photographs were also an integral part of the “women power” campaign to change the public attitude toward women joining the work force. He showed women as patriotic, glamorous and capable, working on fighter planes as well as assembly lines. Palmer also focused on the dedication and dignity of the black labor force and worked with the chief of the News Bureau Negro Press.

In 1942, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was added as a joint agency with the OWI. Palmer and Roy Stryker shared creativity and conflict during those years in the dissident approaches to portraying America to herself. While Stryker’s unit showed a national self scrutiny of post depression America, Palmer sought to emphasize a moral building role through his photography. Palmer’s deep belief in promoting the spiritual strength of people permeates his entire career as photographer and filmmaker.

During his years with OWI Palmer worked with a number of significant photographers such as Esther Bubbly, Howard Leiberman, Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lang and Edward Steichen. Palmer’s artistic style was recognized by Steichen, who featured his photographs in the historic traveling exhibit “Road to Victory”, which opened at the Museum of Modern Art in 1942. Alfred Palmer generated thousands of photographs that were widely published in the major magazines and newspapers in the United States and abroad. His works were praised for their exceptional symbolic power and striking use of intense contrasts conveying the courage and determination that Roosevelt sought to arouse in the nation. Much of the vast collection of Palmer’s photographs (including rare color transparencies) is housed in the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

Alfred Palmer passed away in 1993, leaving a legacy of life work that is unique in its very essence. This extensive collection of photographs and 16mm color film encompassing five decades of world cultures, World War II history and America’s maritime heritage becomes increasingly significant as a testimony to our humanity.”

Text from the Alfred T. Palmer website

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kodachrome-WEB

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A Kodachrome sheet film box that held 2 x half a dozen sheets of film in 2 sheet packages, from around the time Alfred Palmer would have been using the same film. Notice the ISO/ASA rating of 10. Expiry date of October 1944.

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Alfred Palmer. 'American mothers and sisters, like these women at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach , California , give important help in producing dependable planes for their men at the front' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
American mothers and sisters, like these women at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, California, give important help in producing dependable planes for their men at the front
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Assembling switchboxes on the firewalls of B-25 bombers at North American Aviation's Inglewood, California, factory' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Assembling switchboxes on the firewalls of B-25 bombers at North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California, factory
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Workers installing fixtures and assemblies in the tail section of a B-17F bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach , California' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Workers installing fixtures and assemblies in the tail section of a B-17F bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, California
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Engine inspector for North American Aviation at Long Beach, California' June 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Engine inspector for North American Aviation at Long Beach, California
June 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Punching rivet holes in a frame member for a B-25 bomber at North American Aviation. Inglewood, California' June 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Punching rivet holes in a frame member for a B-25 bomber at North American Aviation. Inglewood, California 
June 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Inglewood, California. Riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a C-47 heavy transport at North American Aviation' 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Inglewood, California. Riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a C-47 heavy transport at North American Aviation.
“The versatile C-47 performs many important tasks for the Army. It ferries men and cargo across the oceans and mountains, tows gliders and brings paratroopers and their equipment to scenes of action.”
1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Noontime rest for an assembly worker at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company. Nacelle parts for a heavy bomber form the background' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Noontime rest for an assembly worker at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company. Nacelle parts for a heavy bomber form the background
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Two assembly line workers at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company enjoy a well-earned lunch period, Long Beach, Calif. Nacelle parts of a heavy bomber form the background' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Two assembly line workers at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company enjoy a well-earned lunch period, Long Beach, Calif. Nacelle parts of a heavy bomber form the background
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(LOC)

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Alfred T. Palmer website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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