Saturday, November 28, 2015

Signs of Their Times: The American Way November 27, 2015 by Jeff Bridgers - LOC


At the most fundamental level, signs are a form of visual communication conveying a message through words, graphics, or a combination of the two. Signs’ forms range from traffic signs to billboards, from handbills to the hand-lettered homemade varieties; from simple notices to subtle and sophisticated attempts to sell, promote, or persuade. Today’s blog post initiates a new series Signs of Their Times, which will present a rich variety of signs from the Library’s Prints & Photographs collections as pictured in their contexts within time and place — their historical, cultural, or social milieu.

Below are three Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photographs from February and March 1937 capturing versions from a national billboard advertising campaign sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers themed "There’s no way like the American Way." The sign pictured below on a roadside near Kingwood, West Virginia, by photographer Edwin Locke features a well-dressed family and their dog enjoying one of the sweet fruits of the "World’s Highest Standard of Living" while out for a ride in their automobile:

Road sign near Kingwood, West Virginia

Road Sign near Kingwood, West Virginia. Photograph by Edwin Locke, February 1937. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a14706

In the second photograph shot by Dorothea Lange, the billboard is pictured along a stark and arid stretch of U.S. Highway 99 in California. "Father" is welcomed home by his daughter while "Mother" awaits at their house’s threshold. This domestic scene is the obvious product of the "World’s Highest Wages:"

Billboard on U.S. Highway 99 in California.

Billboard on U.S. Highway 99 in California. Photograph by Dorothea Lange, March 1937. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b31725

Lange in the same California vicinity, is mounted on the side of a pipe and plumbing supply business. The family pictured enjoys a picnic together. Clearly, the "World’s Shortest Working Hours" are providing the leisure time for such a pleasant outing:

Billboard on U.S. Highway 99 in California.

Billboard on U.S. Highway 99 in California. Photograph by Dorothea Lange, March 1937. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b31722

The sight of these billboards within the context of the Great Depression’s millions of jobless and migrant farm families gone bust was not lost on the perceptive documentary photographers during those desperately lean years.

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