Black and White World in Color


Life magazine published quite a few color photos in the thirties. This one brings out the kitsch of Nazi German uniforms in a way black and white cannot.

All of us are used to thinking of the distant past in black and white. So much so that it comes as a shock when we suddenly see the world as it was, in color. This has become a bit of a fetish with me, I especially like recovering the color in washed out color photos from many decades ago. It is also a thrill to come across color video from a time we are accustomed to thinking of as black and white. Not long ago I harvested a batch of old color photos from the thirties. I was especially interested in the color photos from the Third Reich. We all have such an emotional reaction to that horrendous regime, and yet, if you are like me, you are also fascinated by it. The kitsch of the Third Reich, it’s overstated visual element is especially apparent when viewed in color. Black and white photos and movies place a distant between us and that time, whereas color helps to place us in that time. Color helps to bring out the gaudiness and kitsch of the Nazi era in the above photo. In the short film promoting the 1936 Olympics we obtain a glimpse in color of what the Third Reich truly looked like. Of course it is propaganda, and I am not promoting Nazism by posting this material. My point is to show the past in color instead of black and white in order to give the viewer a clearer view of how the past actually looked. Next I will show a less controversial choice, life in the good old USA in the thirties.

A Vermont family at the state fair in the 1930's

Shifting our attention to the United States, I have included a fascinating photo taken a the state fair in Vermont in the thirties. The Depression in particular is thought of in black and white terms and here we can get an idea of how the thirties looked. Take a look at the matching pink dresses, undoubtedly home made.

Here is a farm scene from the Great Depression in the thirties

This serves as a reminder that the past is but a continuation of the present, instead of a strange black and white world of it’s own. The New York World’s Fair in 1939 deserves it’s own post, but here is a short color film which takes you back to that time in a way black and white could never do, and then another video of that fair and other events in the US in the thirties, in color.

I am fairly certain that all of this material is in the public domain, except for the Life magazine photo.

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