One of my first jobs in the Archives field was as the Visual Arts Archivist at the Atlanta History Center. I loved that job because I love photography as both an art form and as a way to document and capture in visual form. While the Atlanta History Center had (and still has - check out their site here) a great photography collection while I was working there, I was always in awe of the photograph collection at the Library of Congress. Their holdings are so expansive, cover so many topics and are open to the public. One of the keystone collections for the Library of Congress has always been the Farm Service Administration/Office of War Information photographs. These collections were created when the US Government commissioned dozens of photographers to document the Great Depression and then later World War II. Some of the photographers were well known including Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott and Gordon Parks. What makes this collection from the Library of Congress so special is the extensive use of color photography. While there had been hand tinted photographs (where the color was added to the black and white print,) for decades, the introduction of Kodachrome film by Kodak beginning in 1935 changed the world of photography (and yes, always think of the Paul Simon song Kodachrome when I talk about the film.) When the professional version of the film was introduced in 1938, the photographers of the FSA/OWI began using the new film. As a historian, it is striking to see an era that has traditionally been identified as black and white spring into color. Now that we have entered the digital age, the Library of Congress has been putting thousands of images on their FLICKR page. This week, a friend sent me a link to a Daily Mirror story on the beautiful and rare color photographs on the LOC page. As I read the article and scanned the photos, at first I was surprised by how many contained Coca-Cola advertising, but I should not have been. Coke has been utilizing outdoor advertising since we were first sold in 1886. Records from John Pemberton’s 1886 ledgers show that he paid for oil cloth signs with the famous Coca-Cola script logo to be hung outside the soda fountains that sold Coca-Cola. Since those early beginnings, we have always had a strong program to offer signs to the outlets that serve our product, so it is only natural that our signs are in so many of the photographs. I hope that you can take a few minutes to explore what America looked like – in color – between 1939 and 1944.
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