These autochromes are three of about seventy-two thousand that were commissioned and then archived by Albert Kahn, a wealthy French banker and pacifist, between 1909 and 1931. Kahn sent thirteen photographers and filmmakers to fifty countries “to fix, once and for all, aspects, practices, and modes of human activity whose fatal disappearance is no longer ‘a matter of time.'”* The resulting collection is called Archives de la Planète and now resides in its own museum at Kahn’s old suburban estate at Boulogne-Billancourt, just west of Paris. Since June 2016, the archive has also been available for viewing online here.
“A citizen working on Sunday morning in the victory garden he has made on the edge of the street,” Oswego, New York, June 1943, by Marjory Collins, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all photos here).
“Reports estimate that by 1944, between 18-20 million families with victory gardens were providing 40 percent of the vegetables in America,” according to Smithsonian Gardens.
“Charlie Ferguson’s sister,” Tilba Tilba, New South Wales, ca. 1895, by William Henry Corkhill, viaTrove of the National Library of Australia.
I love this formal pose in front of a vegetable garden — and it’s very typical of the photographer’s work.
Corkhill was an amateur who took thousands of pictures of his prosperous dairy farming community between 1890 and 1910.
His images were rediscovered in 1975, when his daughter gave his surviving glass plate negatives to the National Library. Among the 840 that could still be printed were portraits of family and neighbors of a “special intensity and intimacy,” according to the book, Taken at Tilba.
For the natural light, Corkhill had to work outside, in gardens and farmyards. But he often posed his subjects as if they were in a studio, with small tables, chairs, and books. His backdrops were sometimes shrubs and flowers, but he also seemed satisfied with rough fences, water tanks, or the space between two farm sheds. Occasionally, the sitters look a little amused by the process, but the photographer’s approach is not ironic.
“Corkhill’s familiarity with and affection for his subjects is evident . . . and imbues his photographs with a strange combination of authority and informality. He has a rather casual approach to the backgrounds in his portraits, as if his familiarity with the scenes he records makes him impervious to some of their oddities,” according to his biography on the Library’s website.
You can click on the linked titles below to see more of his pictures, or you can browse through the online catalog here.
“Artist’s uptown residence,” New York City, ca. 1860, via Robert Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views, New York Public Library.
Upper Manhattan at this time was rapidly transforming from country to city — as villages and small farms became blocks of middle-class rowhouses. This backyard, with its neat latticed sitting area and then large cabbage garden, seems to encapsulate the change.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the name of the artist or the address. Is he one of the two men in top hats sitting by the door, or was she standing in front of them, balancing a small boy on the fence — or maybe taking the picture?
I love this photo by Russell Lee, * of a May 1942 Turlock, California, backyard. (Unfortunately, it’s not very sharply focused.) The caption, possibly by the photographer, reads:
Housewife waters the lawn. All garden furniture and barbecue pit were made by her husband; about one out of every three houses in this town has such an arrangement in the backyard, and during the summer months people eat and spend many hours in their yards.