Sunday, February 24, 2013

Esther Bubley

I'm writing about the work of American photographer Esther Bubley in the 1940s right now--she was known for depicting working class female subjects.  While working for the IWO in the 1940s, she travelled up and down the east coast by Greyhound on assignments because she didn't drive.  Many of her better known images were taken of passengers, drivers and workers on the bus.  These images were collected in the IWO photo series, Bus Story.

"In these respects, Esther Bubley's photographic apprenticeship was very different from that of other women who had worked for the FSA in the 1930s. Bubley's small town, lower-middle-class background pales in comparison with Dorothea Lange's intrepid documentary adventures across the country. Bubley also did not have the advantage of Marion Post Wolcott's bohemian education in Greenwich Village and Vienna. Furthermore, unlike her female predecessors, Bubley's pre-FSA photographic experience was in commercial and fashion photography rather than in socially concerned documentation, like Lange, or with photojournalism, like Post Wolcott. Bubley did not even have a driver's licence. Her photographic projects for the FSA were therefore confined to the Washington, DC area and the outskirts of Virginia. When she travelled, it was not for thousands of miles through the Southern states solo with an axe in her trunk; nor was it across the Midwest and California consumed by a vision to reconstruct a social and economic history of agricutural production in the United States. Instead, Esther Bubley travelled from Washington, DC to Memphis on an overcrowded Greyhound bus. Her view of America in the 1940s was not of an unobscured road heading west seen from the roof of her car, but looking awkwardly through the bus driver's windscreen as the bus moved along, trying not to get in the driver's way.  Consequently, Bubley's vision was a little lopsided, her view not quite squarely framed."

- Jacqueline Ellis.  (1996).  "Revolutionary Spaces: Photographs of Working-Class Women by Esther Bubley, 1940-43"

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