12 million people of every nationality imaginable passed through the doors of Ellis Island. The building opened in 1892, but five years later burned completely to the ground. A larger building was constructed to process 5,000 immigrants per day. On April 17th, 1907 11,747 immigrants were processed.
People fled to America because of war, famine and lack of opportunity. In certain cases entire villages of people packed up and moved – bringing their customs, cuisines and cultures.
The portraits in this series were taken by Augustus Sherman. Sherman worked as a clerk at Ellis Island from 1892 to 1925.
Timothy O’Sullivan is best known for his haunting battlefield images of the American Civil War, but after the war O’Sullivan continued his rich and lasting photography career. O’Sullivan joined the United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel in 1867. From 1871 to 1874 he took part in a survey west of the 100th meridian. O’Sullivan’s photographs of the Southwest were used to recruit settlers, but more importantly they provide a glimpse into the lives of the Southwestern American Indian tribes, and a peek into pre-industrialized western landscapes.
The following animated gif wigglegrams were created from scans of original stereographs from O’Sullivan’s photographs using the New York Public Library’s Stereogranimator website (created by Joshua Heineman).
“This mug shot comes from a police identification book believed to be from the 1930s. It was originally found in a junk shop by a member of the public and subsequently donated to Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.” -Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
“No information is available to confirm which police force compiled it, but evidence suggests it’s from the Newcastle upon Tyne area.”
Ansel Adams is perhaps the most famous and recognizable photographer in American history. No person surpassed his technical mastery of film photography. Adam’s could take a picture of a white wall, and it would be the greatest picture of a white wall you’ve ever seen. He literally wrote the book on photography. His three tomes, The Camera, The Negative and The Print provide an encyclopedic explanation of film photography.
Adams started his photography career as a 14 year-old on a Yosemite vacation with his family in 1916. Adam’s father gave him a Kodak Brownie camera, and he made his first photographs on that vacation. The next year he returned with a better camera, and in the winter went to work for a photo finisher in San Francisco. By 1927 Ansel had produced his first portfolio of photography of scenes from the Sierra mountains. This first portfolio launched his career, and he would spend the next 60 years creating images of America’s iconic natural areas.
The industrial boom and labor shortage that grew in the wake of World War I left manufacturers turning to an unexploited and growing workforce: children. According to the 1900 census about one in six children between the ages of five and ten were “gainfully employed.”
A sentiment grew among the American public that children were being robbed of their future and education. The National Child Labor Committee was founded in 1904. Four years later, a 34 year-old photographer named Lewis Hine was hired to document children working in factories, mills and newspaper companies across the country. Hine worked for nearly ten years with the NCLC to expose child labor. And perhaps his most iconic and enigmatic subjects were the newsies.
In Charles Loring Brac’s 1866 book ”Short Sermons to News Boys, With a History of the Formation of the News Boys’ Lodging House,” he describes a scene:
“I remember one cold night seeing some 10 or a dozen of the little homeless creatures piled together to keep each other warm beneath the stairway of The Sun office. There used to be a mass of them also at The Atlas office, sleeping in the lobbies, until the printers drove them away by pouring water on them. One winter, an old burnt-out safe lay all the season in Wall Street, which was used as a bedroom by two boys who managed to crawl into the hole that had been burnt. I was often amused at the accounts of their various lodgings.”
The weight of what these children often endured – homelessness, exploitation and horrific working conditions – adds to the already incredible quality of the photographs. The expressions on the faces of the children in Hine’s photographs are as endearing as they are diverse. Some look awkward, shy and innocent – unsure of the encounter, while others stare directly, confidently, and indignantly at Hine’s camera.
The aesthetic of the Civil War is synonymous with the tintype. Civil War tintypes were inexpensive and easily produced. A photographer could prepare the plate, take the photograph, and deliver a finished portrait to a customer very quickly. And while they were invented nearly a decade before, the demand from soldiers brought about their prominence. Eventually the paper photograph, which could be endlessly reproduced from negatives, surpassed the tintype in prominence.
Washington DC was a very different place in the 1930s. Charactarized by absent public transport, housing shortages and economic opportunists, slums arose across the city. DC was planned with spacious lots, and wealthy property owners, recognizing the shortage of housing and the influx of migrant workers, started building small ramshackle dwellings in the alleys behind their homes. Carl Mydans, a Massachusetts born photographer, came to DC in 1935 after accepting an offer to work for the Resettlement Administration. One of the RA’s mandates was to relocate struggling urban families. The RA was folded into the Farm Security Administration after only a year. When Mydans arrived in DC he found a depressed working class community living in unsanitary and dangerous conditions. The DC alley slums made the politicians on Capital Hill deeply uncomfortable. It conflicted with their image of the city as a gleaming white representation of American virtue and exceptionalism. The Alley Dwelling Authority was created in 1934. They argued that affordable housing was now available, and the Authority was given control to condemn the slums. The reality proved to be different. Housing prices in DC rose dramatically with the boom following the second world war. Monuments and office buildings sprang up around the city, but the working class people displaced from the DC alley slums continued to struggle. Historic & vintage photographs on Photistoric.
Alan Lomax was a folk music collector for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. He made acetate and aluminum discs of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Muddy Waters, Jelly Roll Morton and other influential early American musicians. Without the ambitious efforts that included Alan’s father, also a musicologist, and his wife Ruby, many important songs and musicians would have remained undiscovered. Vintage photographs on Photistoric.
Gordon Parks was a filmaker, photographer, director and musician. Among other achievements, Parks published photographic essays in Life Magazine, wrote novels and directed “Shaft” in 1971. Parks photographed Chicago’s South Side Ghetto in 1941. Those photographs won him a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration, a major sponsor of anthropological photography and an institution which employed many of the photographers featured on Photistoric. The following photographs were taken in 1942 at the beginning of Park’s professional photography career with the FSA. They show a photographer who’s already technically proficient and able to capture the emotion of his working class subjects. Vintage photographs on Photistoric.