Here is another astonishing image from the past that, thanks to the work of two groundbreaking visual artists, seems to leap off the screen and bring history to life. These unemployed men were photographed on a street in San Francisco in April 1939, toward the end of the Great Depression. They seem to be sharing a smoke. The one in the coat and tie is perhaps dressed that way while looking for a job. There’s a sense of perseverance about these men, but also despair. Given their clothes and expressions one can easily imagine they’ve been looking for work, unsuccessfully, for a long time. Yet here they are, hanging out on a streetcorner, perhaps ready to begin the search again–or maybe they just gave up. I find the background very interesting, and almost underscoring the sense of despair: the pawn shop, one of the last resorts of poor people in an urban area, is next to a cafeteria. This isn’t exactly Skid Row, but it’s not far off.
The two artists who brought you this picture never met one another. The photographer was Dorothea Lange, the legendary shutterbug who had a commission from the federal government, thanks to the New Deal, to document the effects of the Depression through photos. “Migrant Mother” is her most famous picture. However, the photo was originally taken in black and white. The second artist responsible for this is the amazing Brazilian digital colorist Marina Amaral, whose work I have featured on this blog before. Her achievements have been recognized in press all over the world and you can easily see why. Her painstaking research and incredible digital skill bring historic images to life like nothing else.