My great-grandmother had a closet full of cameras. Examining them was a walk through time, she was born in 1898, and the closet was a history lesson in the progression of the personal camera. She also subscribed to a spiral bound periodical called U.S. Camera that was a collection of juried photographs put out yearly. I loved looking through them because every year has its own sensibility that tells a story about what people were thinking about at the time. Somehow I ended up with the volume from 1937, one of the volumes that I found particularly interesting.
In the introduction they talk about how in the first 50 years, 1839-1889,”every phase of photography was anticipated, if not mastered. Color processes, miniature cameras, enlargements to twelve diameters or more, successive instantaneous exposures, pictures from the air, by flashlight, and of the invisible rays–the germs of all these triumphs of modern technique were sown decades ago.” Decades on the other side of 1937, our technology has undergone radical changes–but our modern technique is clearly related to what came before.
It was in 1937 that the Hindenburg disaster took place and this photo series made it into the journal. The “Death of a Dirigible” killed 36 of it’s 97 passengers when it was landing in New Jersey. The airship was designed to use helium gas but due to export restrictions with Nazi Germany it was filled with hydrogen instead, with tragic results.
Jean Harlow died in 1937 at just 26 years old. It is thought that she died of kidney failure which they did not properly diagnose, but it likely could not have been cured in the 1930’s. She was starring in the movie Saratoga at the time of her death which was then completed with doubles and relesed after her death going on to become the second highest grossing picture of 1937.
In addition to historically relevent photos, the subject matter covers a surprisingly diverse range of material. Portraits, landscapes, scientific, food–there are too many images to share the whole book, but I have pulled some of my favorites. When seen together the images tell an interesting story for me. I think there is a tension between the formal glamorous shots with the informal images–popular themes of the 1930’s that were explored in films of the time.
“Every one of the pictures was made with equipment which the merest tyro would scorn today and under handicaps which would discourage the most expert technician. May they remind amateur and professional alike that not through the technique at his command, but through his vision of the world, does the photographer create pictures of significance and lasting value”
I wonder what Mr. Newhall would think about the equipment today? Likely the very same thing–equipment comes and goes, I again think of my great-grandmothers closet, but what remains is our vision of the world and a desire to capture our vision and share it.