Monday, July 19, 2010

Like a Curtain of Black Rolled Down

From Oklahoma City to the Arizona Line
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgment, we thought it was our doom.
- "The Great Dust Storm" Woody Guthrie

The 1930's was undoubtedly one of the last century's most tumultuous decades. Marked by the crash of the Stock Market on October 29, 1929, the 30's would bring an end to the glitz and glamor of the "Roaring Twenties." With the population of the United States suffering a severe and extremely devastating financial crisis, an environmental catastrophe would be brewing in it's Mid-West prairie lands.

The area known as the Great Plains has largely been known as the agricultural heartbeat of the country. Home to over millions of acres of farmland, it's inhabitants largely relied on it's production of crops in order make a living. Farmers from Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and parts of Colorado and New Mexico would find the mid-1930's to be a benevolent time of destruction to their homelands.

This photograph, by an unknown photographer was taken on April 18, 1935 in Stratford, Texas. The massive dust cloud is seen encroaching on the small farming town. What makes this image such a stark example of the storms is its juxtaposition of the dust clouds versus the clear skies above it. The people in the background seem to be surveying the omniscient power of what is headed towards them.

The Dust Bowl, as it's commonly called today was the result of a harsh combination of a drought and years upon years of extensive farming. The drought turned the soil of the land into dust that would later wreak utter havoc on the people. With their land unable to harvest crops, the people of the Great Plains were forced to uproot their lives and relocate to other areas of the country. This massive migration would be the largest mass resettlement in American history for such a short period of time. By the end of the decade, some 2.5 million people had left their homes.

 This period of US History would also leave it's mark on the arts as well. Author John Steinbeck would win a Pulitzer Prize for his portrayal of a displaced Oklahoma family in Grapes of Wrath. Folk singer Woody Guthrie would also use the Dust Bowl as a topic for a few of his songs. The people of the Great Plains and their stories will long be remembered, if not from the legacy of literature and song but from the photographs that haunt its viewers to this day.

The Dust Bowl on Wikipedia
NOAA Photo Library

Thursday, July 1, 2010

April 18, 1906.

On Wednesday, April 18th, 1906 at 5:12 A.M., San Francisco would awaken it's morning eyes to a tremendous rumbling coming from the ground beneath her feet. While the earthquake was the initial cause of the city's destruction, the fires that followed would claim up to 90 percent of the disaster's damage. The fiery inferno would later be credited to the loss of 25,000 buildings on nearly 500 blocks of San Francisco's streets. The metropolis city of Northern California had never experienced a disaster quite like it.

Six weeks later, a photographer by the name of George R. Lawrence would render an absolutely amazing photograph that would convey just how brutal the city had been hit. On May 28th, 1906, Lawrence would suspend his 49 pound camera by a kite, some 2,000 feet up above the bay and would snap the symbolic picture. The 160-degree panoramic picture shows San Francisco leveled by the earthquake and consequent fires that followed. Small still-smoldering fires still litter the city streets with makeshift tents near the coastline. Afterward, Lawrence sold his prints for $125 a copy and would amount earn around $15,000 from his picture.

Today, the magnitude of the 1906 Earthquake has been measured at about a 7.9. Now, 110 years later the City by the Bay has completely rebuilt herself into one of the most amazing cities in the United States. The disaster however; still resonates in the city and in the iconic photograph by George R. Lawrence. "San Francisco in Ruins" is a truly a marvel within itself.

"San Francisco in Ruins" by George R. Lawrence. 1906.

"San Francisco in Ruins" by George R. Lawrence
1906 San Francisco Earthquake on Wikipedia


The messages of history have long been preached through the standard sources of books, newspapers and magazines. Encompassing a combined usage of primary & secondary sources (such as letters, diaries and eyewitness accounts), the stories of the past have been retold for generations upon generations.

However, not until the mid 19th century would an invention quite like the camera, be able to convey a relationship between the photographer and its subject. For the first time, a picture could bring the news of the world to the forefront of the general public. People, places and events are now visually captured and forever frozen in time with their stories preserved and promised to be retold for years to come.

This blog searches for those moments in history. The most serious, casual and all-around inspiring moments caught on film.

Perhaps, just perhaps, a photograph you see will tell a story you have never heard. This is: "Through the Lens of History."