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Jack Delano, American, (August 1, 1914–August 12, 1997)
Commuters, Lowell, Mass, 1941
Dye transfer print
9 15/16 in. x 6 7/8 in. (25.27 cm x 17.53 cm)

Object Type: Photography
Credit Line: Gift of C. Jane Hurley Wilson '64 and Michael G. Wilson, Wilson Centre for Photography, London, UK
Accession Number: 2008.4.8

This is a photograph that stands out from the work we usually associate with the Farm Security Administration (FSA): it is of urban workers; it is located in the Northeast; and it is in color. Jack Delano, who took this photo in early (probably January) 1941, joined the Historical Section of the FSA in 1940, as it turned its focus from the rural relief programs of the Department of Agriculture to documenting American life. In 1942 the FSA would become part of the Office of War Information (OWI) and produce images for the war effort. We can see this photo as occupying that moment, between depression and war, in a way that the subjects and the photographer could not themselves have known. As a historian, when I see this image I think backwards and forwards, backwards to the history of Lowell, Massachusetts, forwards to war that was still ahead in 1941. Where were these individuals in that history? Were they the descendants of those early textile workers, the Lowell mill girls of the early 19th century? Why did they leave Lowell for work? Knowing that the US will enter the war within the year, I wonder whether the younger man will go to war and if these women will be in defense work, if their presence here already signals a new economic role for women as the mill girls had for an earlier era. Trained as a musician and painter, Delano said he was “always looking for compositions that already existed as such in shooting.” He achieved equilibrium here, with the figures arranged under the roofline, the light post in the center. This is a photo that appears candid but is in balance. Delano also said he wanted his “pictures” to say “something decent about the dignity of mankind, the dignity of human beings, and it didn't matter who they were.” Although the figures seem glum and disconnected on this cold winter day, they have jobs, something they could not take for granted after years of massive unemployment. They are dressed respectably and neatly in the style of the day, the women in coats just below the knee, heeled shoes, hats, carrying parcels, the men in their overcoats with ties, hats and scarves. Their poses differentiate them more than their appearance. As they wait for the bus or street car, they are anticipatory but not anxious. But there is no connection, either among the individuals or between them and their surroundings. The ads on the wall behind them—for Hawaiian exotica and whiskey—do not offer much of a promise of a good time. They are commuters, on their way somewhere else. Julie E. Liss Professor of History

"Commuters attests to Delano's greatest photographic interest: the working American. He candidly captures workers waiting for their morning bus. His somber, unsentimental representation of daily events embodies his distinct approach to portraying the dismal mood of the Great Depression. Unlike his earlier photographic documentations, Delano places women workers at the front and center of this composition, making plain their significant contribution to the workforce during this era. Delano's presence remains unnoticed as the workers wait in the cold. This image becomes a profound representation of the times: despite their disagreeable current conditions, the workers maintain an air of expectancy and hope."

Written by Kayla Erickson (SC '09) 2008-2009 Wilson Intern.

Object Description
People dressed in Winter coats standing at a bus stop, snow covered roof of building behind them, lamp-post with "No Parking" sign. Printed 1985. Light Gallery authentication stamp on verso. Limited edition set of 250 dye transfer prints from original Farm Security Administration transparencies held by the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Artist's name, title, transparency date, printing date and gallery number in pencil on verso.

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