Everyday Life of the U.S in 1943 Through Esther Bubley’s Lens – A Look at the American Home Front During WWII

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Military and political events overseas were not the only subjects reporters and photographers covered during World War II. Photographer Esther Bubley (1921-1998) found ample subject matter to explore on the American home front as the nation mobilized for war.

Twenty-year-old Bubley arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1941, fresh from art school and a short stint with Vogue and eager to earn a living with her camera. Although she soon found work as a lab technician at the National Archives, Bubley’s ambition was to work for Roy Stryker. Stryker, head of the documentary photography project of the Historical Section, Farm Security Administration (FSA) Documentary Photo project from 1935 to 1943, was an outstanding mentor and teacher, who attracted young photographers to work for him.

During her off-hours, Bubley set out to prove her camera skills by snapping wartime subjects around the nation’s capital. Her unvarnished images of life in the city’s boarding houses for war workers impressed Stryker enough to recruit the aspiring photographer into the Office of War Information (OWI), where the Historical Section had been relocated.

OWI sent Bubley on at least one cross-country bus trip, during which she produced hundreds of images of a country in transition from the doldrums of the Great Depression to the fevered pace of war. Unlike many of her colleagues, however, Bubley was not drawn to the awesome industrial complex spawned by the war, preferring instead to focus on average Americans.

“Put me down with people, and it’s just overwhelming,” Bubley said of her focus on the human dimension of mobilization.

A look at the American home front during the Second World War through Esther Bubley’s lens in 1943.

Indiana. A soldier and a girl saying goodbye at the Greyhound bus station, Indianapolis, 1943

Indiana. A Greyhound bus station in Indianapolis, 1943

Indiana. At the Greyhound bus terminal, Indianapolis, September 1943

Indiana. Parents of one of the soldiers on a special bus, climbing onto the baggage cart to look into the bus until the moment it departs from the Greyhound terminal, Indianapolis, 1943

Maryland. Sailors at Glen Echo amusement park,  March 1943

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