If the Facebook page “Mid Century in Color” is any indication, most amateur photographers using color film in the US in the mid twentieth century were white—and they created an image of an all-white America. Luckily, professional photographers of color were widening the picture of the United States in all of its colorful diversity. One of the most famous among them was African American Gordon Parks, who got a job with the government’s photo documentation services (first the FSA and then the OWI) in the 1940s and went on to become a photographer for Life magazine after World War Two. Read his fascinating life story here.
The photo above, “Ondria Tanner and her Grandmother Window Shopping,” was part of a photo documentary Parks made for Life in September, 1956. Only a fraction of the photos made it into the magazine. This particular one was not included, although there was another view. I was drawn to the wonder of the small girl staring at the fashions on display—all on white models. Her grandmother is very simply dressed in a white blouse and skirt. Perhaps she was a skilled seamstress showing Ondria the possibilities for her next outfit.