The first thing to say about Raeburn's book is that it is not a conventional FSA photo book of beautifully printed photos on good quality paper, rather it is an interesting academic text interpreting small town America during the thirties using Ben Shahn's 1938 photos of a wide area around Columbus, Ohio.
Roy Stryker, Shahn's boss at the FSA regarded the small town as the backbone of democracy and fundamentally sound (despite their inherent built-in conservatism) though by the mid-thirties they were slowly declining in importance because of: the improving highway system and car ownership which allowed small town folk access to medium and large cities with better entertainment and retail centers (with cheaper prices); the perception that cities offered better jobs; exposure to urban culture via radio, movies and magazines.
Using the photos Raeburn peels back small town life though a lot of words are used to describe what the reader can see in the photos for themselves. Shahn's coverage was comprehensive enough to provide photos for a chapter called: "We Cater to White Trade Only". Photo ninety-five has this statement on a restaurant window in Lancaster. Racism was certainly alive in the northern state of Ohio.
I thought it was a pity that the photos are only printed with a 150 screen on an ordinary paper. Shahn's photos are so rich in detail and his use of right-angle hand held camera allowed him to capture people unawares. This would be a brilliant book if the pictures were reproduced in better quality.
Three proper photo books of Shahn's work are: Fields of Vision: The Photographs of Ben Shahn: The Library of Congress, Ben Shahn, Photographer: An Album from the Thirties and The Photographic Eye of Ben Shahn.
A rather boring title spread.
Contents totally missing any sort of design appeal.
The photos throughout the book are quite grey. Unfortunately printed with a 150 screen on average paper.
Three other Shahn photo books that I think are worth checking out.
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