Friday, September 24, 2010

Kodachrome 4X5 at the Library of Congress in the US

The US Library of Congress has a huge collection of writings, artwork, artifacts and photographs mainly pertaining to the US.  The curators have even put up a lot of color images from World War II on Flickr, including this image - a very interesting image from "wartime production".

Out of the dozens of related images showing the wartime woman workforce busy with airframes, engines, cockpits and other aviation, is this one, which is different than the others. The others all have images of workers cleaned up, in nice dresses, makeup, and good shoes.

They are all great, but they are staged. Except this one, at least not as much: This woman in the yellow hat has a certain posture, and her hand on the turret wheel of the Warner and Swaysey No 4 turret lathe isn't staged. That's the fist of a machinist, fingers safely tucked, elbow out, a firm grip balanced by the other arm - a practiced motion like Tai Chi.  Warner and Swaysey build a solid machine and here is a link to one still in use.

I see a bruised knuckle, which happens if you set up and operate this machine.

You can't really fake this, even though the machine isn't set up at the moment this image was taken, which can be seen as the turret appears to be empty, and the faceplate has no workpiece on it.  Also, there are open ended wrenches and other tools on the ram (that's the part behind the turret to the right of the turret wheel) that would not be sitting there in normal use while actually machining some part.

It's posed, but real enough, I think. Probably taken with a light or two, and a Speed Graphic, this worker didn't dress up for the photograph. I'm a little suspicious of the grease on her right forearm, as this might have been added to, but it is very typical of handling and carrying greasy machined parts. It's a great shot, and apparently Kodachrome 4X5. Perhaps she didn't know in advance like the others, or maybe she didn't care to be anything else.

Setting up a turret lathe or any manually operated machine like this is a greasy job, something I know because I set up and ran a similar machine at Scholz X-ray of Needham MA for several years during college. Scholz had a lot of war production machinery that had been installed in the 1940s, 35 years earlier.

You can tell a lot by looking at a photograph.  No safety glasses back then. The bill of that yellow hat looks a little too clean.

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