Sunday, September 11, 2005

Bound for Glory

If you have read my blog much this summer you may have caught on to have few Saturdays I have spent at home. So today was a very exciting Saturday for me because of the lack of a road trip involved. So I took care of lots of personal business today (translation: spent way too much money on personal needs), and decided to do one unique thing for myself. A few days ago I learned about a new exhibit at the Library of Congress, called "Bound for Glory." As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to go. Here is the description of the exhibit from the website-
Bound for Glory: America in Color is the first major exhibition of the little known color images taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI). Comprised of seventy digital prints made from color transparencies taken between 1939 and 1943, this exhibition reveals a surprisingly vibrant world that has typically been viewed only through black-and-white images. These vivid scenes and portraits capture the effects of the Depression on America's rural and small town populations, the nation's subsequent economic recovery and industrial growth, and the country's great mobilization for World War II.
These colorful images mark a historic divide in visual presentation between the monochrome world of the pre-modern age and the brilliant hues of the present. They change the way we look--and think about--our past.

The Library of Congress is one of the rare and finest treasures of the world. Truly the crowning jewel of Washington, DC. It is truly remarkable that it is free and open to anyone to walk in and visit. And the exhibits are incredible, and more fact based, and not so art-based. So it feels different from a museum, and more like a library, or a church. The last time I was in the Library was back when I was a Hill intern during college. Back then security was considerably lighter, and you could take the tunnels under the Hill from the Longworth over to the Jefferson building. I was notorious for getting lost in those underground tunnels, and and not much better once I was in a building. To make a long story short, I somehow got lost and ended up in a special room in the Library that was having its mosiac tile floors refinished. It was one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever seen. I was caught and escorted out of that room by security. I have never been able to find that room again.
But anyway, back to the exhibit I saw today.
I fall considerably short of the term 'history buff.' But I do love history, particulary the Depression era. So there was a real draw in getting to see real color photographs of that era. We have all seen black and white photos, and we have seen Hollywood renditions of the Depression. But for me it was very exciting to see real color images from that time. There were about 70 photos in the exhibit, and 2 particularly stand out in my mind. The first was of schoolchildren from Pie Town, NM. At first glance it just appears to be 20 or so kids singing in the school choir. But the closer you look the more details show up that would never have been obvious in black and white. The first thing I caught were the awful haircuts. The little girls with their short chin length haircuts, cut at ragged and jagged angles, clearly by their mother with a pair of dull scissors. The second detail that struck me were their feet. Some of the kids had on shoes- beat up, dirty, shoes. But most of them were barefoot, but it was hard to notice, because their feet were so blackened and dirty they appeared to be wearing shoes. To see it in color was striking and made their lifestyle seem that much more real to me.
My second favorite picture was similar to the "Rosie the Riveter" image from that era. But in this photo there was an African American woman wearing the same type of blue shirt Rosie wears, and hair pulled up in a red bandana on her head. She's holding a drill of some sort and is "fitting" some machinery. But the striking part of the picture, that never would have stood out in black and white, were her fingernails and lipstick. In spite of her rather dirty, manual labor job, she has perfectly red polished nails, and red lipstick on. It all of a sudden hit me that even though these women had to go into the factories to work, they still took care of themselves as if they were classy housewives.
Overall the pictures were all very beautiful. Other things that stood out for me- how beautifully blue and clear the sky was. It hit me that most of these rural pictures were taken prior to pollution becoming a problem. The vibrancy of the colors of the painted buildings and signs. In every single picture of small town America there was a Budweiser sign.
The pictures made history that much more real to me. I highly recommend this free trip to America's past.
My other favorite surprise at the Library? Getting to see the Gutenberg Bible. I didn't know it was owned by the Library until today. Having heard about the Gutenberg Bible all throughout my education, it seemed strange to me that I had never known that one still existed. It really is a beautiful book, with stunning typeset. I had also never seen a Bible in Latin, which added another special element to it for me.
If you have never been to the Library of Congress, I highly recommend it. From now on I will suggest it to all tourists and DC transplants that I meet.

1 comment:

  1. There are actually several extant Gutenberg Bibles in the world, plus fragments of several others. I believe BYU Special Collections (where I worked in college) has a few signatures of one.

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