Jack Delano was born in Kiev, Russia, in 1914. The family moved to the United States in 1923.
He was invited by Roy Stryker to join the the federally sponsored Farm Security Administration. This small group of photographers, including Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Mary Post Wolcott, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Arthur Rothstein, Charlotte Brooks, John Vachon, Carl Mydans, Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn.
In 1941 Delano moved to Puerto Rico where he worked as a photographer and composer of music.
Jack Delano died in Puerto Rico on 12th August, 1997.
Jack Delano was tasked with photographing railroaders working hard to keep homefront supply lines moving during World War II, such as Robert W. Mayburry controlling the hump tower at Proviso Yard in May 1943. This photo and many more are the subject of a new exhibit sponsored by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art that will be installed at the Chicago History Museum this spring. Photograph by Jack Delano and courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USW36-588
Jack Delano, 83 Depicted the Depression
Jack Delano, one of the few surviving members of the group of photographers who fanned out throughout the United States in the 1930's and 40's on behalf of the New Deal's Farm Security Administration and produced what have become iconic images of the Great Depression, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Puerto Rico. He was 83 and had lived in Puerto Rico since 1946.
The cause was kidney failure, said his editor at the Smithsonian Institution Press, Amy Pastan.
Although he was not as well known as the other F.S.A. photographers, who included Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Arthur Rothstein, Mr. Delano created images of people and places of surpassing elegance and empathy. Certain of his beautifully detailed, crisp black-and-white prints show the Evans influence, but the Delano stamp was very much evident.
In one strikingly Vermeer-like photograph, taken in 1941 in Greene County, Ga., a young, somber woman stands by a doorway in the foreground, while beyond her other figures sit or stand by other doorways, each picked out by gentle light. In another photograph, of a 1940 Thanksgiving dinner in Connecticut, the centerpiece of the meal -- glistening grapes and a gleaming pitcher -- looks as though it were part of an Old Master still life, while the clearly American family at the table parallels the pumpkin and apple pies lined up on a sideboard below the mirror showing the assembled family.
Although his work eschewed photographic contrivances, Mr. Delano was not above helping his subjects achieve what he believed was the right pose.
In his autobiography, ''Photographic Memories,'' which he completed shortly before his death, he recalled that a Connecticut farming couple he was photographing in 1940 insisted on ''staring at the camera, not at all like the jolly people they really were.'' To help the couple loosen up, Mr. Delano finally told the man his pants were falling. When the man immediately clutched at his pants, his wife saw that it was a trick of the photographer's and threw her head back in laughter. Mr. Delano snapped the picture.
Mr. Delano was hired in 1940 by Roy E. Stryker, the legendary director of the historical section of the F.S.A. First assigned to photograph every aspect of workers' lives in the Eastern Seaboard states from Florida to Maine, Mr. Delano subsequently went to Greene County as well as to Chicago, photographing their black communities, and to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico, both the place and the people, entranced him more than any other place he had visited. After serving as a military photographer during World War II, he and the graphic artist Irene Esser, whom he married in 1940, returned to Puerto Rico to do a book of photographs on the island after he won a Guggenheim fellowship. It took him several decades to complete the project, titled ''Puerto Rico Mio,'' which was published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 1990.
An exhibit of his work, 'ɼontrasts: 40 Years of Change and Continuity in Puerto Rico,'' organized by the Smithsonian, has been traveling to various American cities. Mr. Delano was represented by the Howard Greenberg Gallery in Manhattan.
Following their move to Puerto Rico in 1946, the Delanos were closely involved in the cultural life of the island. Mr. Delano managed the Government-run television station, made films about the island, drew cartoons and composed music for ballet, orchestra, chamber groups, voice and chorus. Mrs. Delano died in 1982.
Born on Aug. 1, 1914, in Ukraine, Jacob Ovcharov came to the United States with his parents when he was 8. He grew up in Philadelphia, and first thought he wanted to become a concert violinist. But it was the later goal of becoming a magazine illustrator that led him to enroll in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
During his last year at the academy his fellow students insisted he change his last name. (His parents had already renamed him Jack, after the boxer Jack Dempsey.) One student suggested her family allow him to use her name, which was Delano.
He is surivived by a son, Pablo, of Hartford a daughter, Laura Duncan of New York City, and three grandchildren.
A Masterwork Spanning 40 Years and One Island
An offhand comment Roy Stryker made to Jack Delano changed his life. Mr. Stryker had called Mr. Delano in November 1941 to suggest that he go to the Virgin Islands to document a Farm Security Administration project.
𠇊nd while you’re there,” Mr. Stryker added, “you might want to stop by for a few days in Puerto Rico.”
He agreed, and cut short his current assignment in Georgia. Then he dashed off to find an atlas to figure out exactly where he was headed. A few days turned into more than three months – thanks to the United States’ declaring war after the Pearl Harbor bombing – as Mr. Delano, later joined by his wife, Irene, crisscrossed the island. They were so captivated that they managed to return in 1946 – on a Guggenheim fellowship that turned into a permanent move.Jack Delano, 1946.
Today, Mr. Delano’s vast archive of Puerto Rican images – augmented by a series he did in the 1980s where he revisited some of the same villages, valleys and people he first encountered in the 1940s – is both his masterwork and valentine to his adopted island home. They depict poverty and progress, back-breaking labor and lush landscapes, urban sprawl and modern materialism.
“I was fascinated and disturbed by so much of what I saw,” he wrote of his first trip to the island in his memoir, “Photographic Memories,” which the Smithsonian published shortly before his death in 1997. “I had seen plenty of poverty in my travels in the Deep South, but never anything like this.”
But true to his guiding principle — respect for the thing in front of the camera, as Paul Strand had declared — he saw deeper.
“Yet people everywhere were cordial, hospitable, generous, kind and full of dignity and a sparkling sense of humor,” he noted. “Wherever we went, no matter how dire the poverty, we were welcomed into people’s homes and offered coffee.”
Consider this: When a thunderstorm forced them to seek shelter one day, an impoverished woman welcomed Jack and Irene into her ramshackle home, where the rain fell through holes in the roof. As Irene handed out chocolates to the excited children, the woman explained how her husband had hurt his back and could no longer work the cane fields. She did laundry for her neighbors, and coaxed an egg from a hen when she could.
𠇍on’t worry, Señora,” he recounted in his book. “We take care of ourselves.”
When the storm let up, the Delanos, stunned by what they had seen, left. One of the children called out after them and put a brown paper bag in Irene’s lap.
“What’s in it?” Jack asked after they had ridden in silence for a while. “She looked inside and said, ‘Two eggs.’ ”Jack Delano/Library of Congress Hotel, Ponce. 1941.
Mr. Delano’s work is perhaps a lifetime’s repayment of that woman’s generosity. When he and his wife returned in 1946, he joined the island’s Department of Information, which had modeled itself after the Farm Security Administration. He traveled the island, photographing schools, religious festivals, fairs, hospitals and railroads.
The group included two of his friends from the administration, Edwin and Louise Rosskam, who joined him in a later venture when they were persuaded by the future governor, Luis Muñoz Marin, to establish an agency that would use film and graphics to improve education in rural areas.
That decision led to Mr. Delano’s gradual movement away from photography, as he went into making documentary films, then to work at a newly established educational television station. He would later go on to rediscover his first love, music, as a composer, too.
But in the late 1970s, as a new generation discovered the Farm Security Administration photos, he had the idea to revisit his early work on the island. Several grants underwrote the cost, as the Delanos returned to the scenes of their youthful adventures. They found an island – and people – that had been transformed, and not always for the better. At the same time, they were able to discern the fundamental spirit that had so moved them decades earlier.
Among the 200 images in the resulting exhibition — later published in “Puerto Rico Mio” by the Smithsonian – was one of a funeral, taken in 1946 in Fajardo. A man walks down the street toting an infant’s coffin on his shoulder, a handful of people behind him. A visitor to the show wrote in the guest book: “Mr. Delano – Thank you for making it possible for me to witness the funeral of my little sister, who died before I was born.”Jack Delano/General Archives of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture Child’s funeral, Fajardo. 1946.
A son, Pablo Delano, himself a photographer, sees no coincidence in the fact that his father had no idea where he was heading in 1941.
“It was totally serendipitous,” he said. “It changed a lot of lives, and produced this whole body of work.”
Even in his final years, Pablo Delano said, his father was always willing to share his insights. Jack Delano’s phone number was listed, and people would call, asking him to come and talk at a school.
“He went to what I think were extreme lengths for somebody of his age and physical condition,” Pablo Delano said. 𠇋ut if some sixth-grade teacher called and said, ‘Mr. Delano, we’re learning about Puerto Rico in the 1940s and wondered if you could come to speak to the kids,’ he would get into his Honda Civic and drive out there. And his driving was terrible, like Mr. Magoo. He𠆝 drive to a mountain town, find the school, hobble in and talk to the kids.”
Respect for the thing in front of the camera. And when he died, his adopted land repaid that respect.
“The flag of Puerto Rico was draped on his coffin,” Pablo Delano said. “We still have that flag. It’s a very meaningful thing to us.”
Photographer, filmmaker, graphic designer, illustrator, and composer. Delano’s family came to Philadelphia in 1923 after fleeing the chaos of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He studied music at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and later studied illustration and design at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he received a grant to travel to Europe. There, he became interested in photography, and when he returned to Philadelphia he was hired by the Federal Art Project, the arts division of the Works Progress Administration. Master photographer Paul Strand saw an exhibition of Delano’s photographs and urged him to move to New York, where he met Irene (soon to be his wife), with whom he traveled, eventually, in 1941, to Puerto Rico for a documentary project with the Farm Security Administration, which had hired him on Roy Stryker’s recommendation. In 1946 he settled on the island definitively. His great contribution to art in Puerto Rico occurred when he took part in the organization of the Cinema and Graphics Unit (CGU) of the Commission of Parks and Recreation (the CGU later becoming the Division of Community Education) he was ever-active in producing documentaries, films, and photographs, and took part in the island’s first years of television and radio. In the late eighties, the Smithsonian Institution published a book of his photographs titled Puerto Rico Mio: Four Decades of Change.
I didn't know that there were rules governing the style of documentary photography. In fact, I don't think that the term is very accurate. As far as I’m concerned, the photography that I made for the FSA remains the same to the one I still practice. It is based on a passionate interest in the human condition. This is the philosophical basis of all work I do. I am interested in people, not only as photographic images, but as persons. While I interviewed them, I always paid attention to their stories. I believed that it was very important what they had to say, what I would try to communicate to others.
Source: Contrastes: Cuarenta Años de Cambio y Continuidad en Puerto Rico, Fotografía de Jack Delano, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Ponce, Puerto Rico, October 12, 1995- January 28, 1996.
Jack Delano - History
These days almost everyone has a camera – whether it be a point and shoot, an SLR, or just the stock camera that came with your cell phone. Despite all the criticism of people these days and what they’re photographing, part of me thinks that the people of the future who consume all their nutrients in pill form might find today’s photos of food taken by hipsters rather quaint. The fact remains that what is commonplace today may be noteworthy and historic tomorrow. Time has only proven this true – Boris Klapwald’s snapshots of Grand Central Terminal were boxed up and forgotten for nearly fifty years, until discovered by his daughter. She brought them to the MTA, and they were exhibited in the Terminal through Arts for Transit. Street photographer Vivian Maier was practically unknown until her largely undeveloped film was put up for auction after her death. Her discovered photos have since been exhibited around the world, and is the subject of a documentary. Although the good majority of the photos captured these days aren’t much to write home about, it is undeniable that we are well-documenting our world, and the things future generations will most likely interpret as just plain weird.
Though cameras were far less common in the past, there were many photographers that froze glimpses of what was then normal life. I’ve posted about the Depression-era photographers of the Farm Security Administration before – despite the name, the project yielded thousands of photos that had nothing to do with farms, but instead featured normal Americans living life – including two of the most iconic photographs of Grand Central Terminal. A similarly iconic photo of Chicago’s Union Station also came out of the project, captured by photographer Jack Delano. Delano’s railroad-specific work in the Chicago area is currently on display at the Chicago History Museum, which I recently got the chance to check out.
Portrait of photographer Jack Delano and a locomotive
Though I’m not a frequent visitor to Chicago, I had been to many of its museums (including the Museum of Science and Industry where the legendary Empire State Express #999 now lives). This was, however, my first visit to the Chicago History Museum. The museum provides an interesting look at the history of this unique city – from railroading, to the origins of atomic chain-reactions, and yes, even that cow that supposedly started that fire.
Within you’ll find well designed exhibits, and signs that not only encourage photography, but invite you to share your thoughts and snaps on social media. Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography, as the exhibit is called, depicts the life of railroaders in the Chicago area during World War II, as part of the federal government’s Office of War Information (successor to the aforementioned Farm Security Administration). Besides showing the hardworking men (and women) that kept the country running during the war, Delano’s photographs capture the waning years of steam railroading in the United States.
If you happen to be in the Chicago area between now and next year, the exhibit is worth checking out. For more information, visit the museum’s web page.
Born Yakov Ovcharov in Voroshylivka (then part of the Russian Empire, now part of Ukraine), Jack Delano emigrated to the United States with his family in 1923. Delano studied graphic arts, photography, and music, and was talented in all three disciplines. After graduating from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he embarked on a photographic project documenting coal miners in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. With this portfolio, he applied for (and was accepted to) a job in the photography program of the Farm Security Administration. He remained in the program as the FSA was consolidated into the Office of War Information, where he captured railroads in the Chicago, Oklahoma, and California areas.
Below you’ll find a selection of some of my favorite Chicago-area Jack Delano railroad photographs, several of which were in the exhibit. Thousands of Delano’s photographs are available online to view at the Library of Congress, railroad and otherwise.
Legends of America
Jack Delano, who worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), was also a composer noted for his use of Puerto Rican folk material.
Born as Jacob Ovcharov in Voroshilovka, Ukraine, on August 1, 1914, he immigrated with his parents and younger brother to the United States in 1923. Between 1924 and 1932, he studied graphic arts, photography, and music at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After being awarded an art scholarship for his talents, he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where, from 1928 until 1932, he studied illustration and continued his musical training.
After graduating, he sent sample pictures and applied for a job to Roy Stryker, the Farm Security Administration’s photography program head. He was hired at a salary of $2,300/year and moved to Washington, D.C.
Sent all over the United States and to Puerto Rico, Delano took thousands of photographs for the FSA. In 1943, the FSA was eliminated, and the Office of War Information took over its tasks. Delano followed Styker to the new division.
Vermont State Farm at Rutland, Vermont by Jack Delano, 1941
In 1946, he and his wife returned to Puerto Rico, where they settled permanently. There, he ran Puerto Rican Educational Television, taught music, composed music, and made films. He died on August 12, 1997.
The Railroad Photography of Jack Delano
Born in the Ukraine, photographer Jack Delano moved to the United States in 1923. After graduating from Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1937, Delano worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Office of War Information (OWI) as a photographer. Best known for his work for the Office of War Information during 1940–1943, Jack Delano captured the face of American railroading in a series of stunning photographs. His images, especially his portraits of railroad workers, are a vibrant and telling portrait of industrial life during one of the most important periods in American history. This remarkable collection features Delano's photographs of railroad operations and workers taken for the OWI in the winter of 1942/43 and during a cross-country journey on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, plus an extensive selection of his groundbreaking color images. The introduction provides the most complete summary of Delano's life published to date. Both railroad and photography enthusiasts will treasure this worthy tribute to one of the great photographers of the thirties and forties.
Foreword by Pablo Delano
Preface: A Re-Made Man
Introduction: A Real Respect for the Thing in Front of Him
1. Portfolio One: The Farm Security Administration Photos, 1940-1942
2. Portfolio Two: OWI: Chicago
3. Portfolio Three: OWI: Across the Continent on the Santa Fe
4. Portfolio Four: FSA/OWI: The American Railroad in Color, 1940-1943
Appendix: Notes on the Plate Captions and on the Plates
Appendix: Roy Stryker's FSA/OWI Shooting Scripts Concerning American Railroads
Tony Reevy is Senior Associate Director of the Institute for the Environment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of O. Winston Link: Life Along the Line: A Photographic Portrait of America's Last Great Steam Railroad.
Both scholarly and beautiful, author Reevy's work presents information on Delano the man, background on the agencies that employed him, and more than 170 photos. . . A marvelous study of a craftsman and his important work.
By bringing together in a single, informative volume an excellent selection of Delano's black-and-white and color photographs, Reevy has performed an unquestionably valuable service.
Tony Reevy and Pablo Delano have assembled a wonderful tribute to one of America's great photographers of the 1930s and 40s, highlighting not only his images, but also his life.
The word 'respect' comes up often in the discussion of Delano and his work and it shows in the photographs he was able to produce of railroaders who as a group tended to be camera-shy.
Jack Delano captured the face of American railroading in a series of stunning photographs. His images, especially his photographs of railroad workers, are a vibrant and telling portrait of industrial life during one of the most important periods in American history.
Tony Reevy has given us an intimate, well-researched masterwork about Jack Delano's rail-related photography created during his early 1940s tenure with the FSA/OWI. Delano's photography is foregrounded and given the fulsome aesthetic and historical consideration it deserves. Coupled with Reevy's thoughtful essays, a deeper contextual appreciation of Delano's imagery—and its heretofore underrated position within the pantheon of American photography—emerges.
Jeff Brouws, author, photo-historian, and Director for Center for Railroad Photography and Art
Jack Delano had a successful career as a photographer and was widely recognized for his evocative scenes of railway workers and their equipment. In this book, Reevy has presented a topical summary for a comprehensive and well-designed coverage of this worthy subject.
Kudos to Tony Reevy for skillfully capturing photographer Jack Delano's love affair with America's railroads during the mid-20th century. I am especially taken by Delano's evocative portraits of the men and women of the Santa Fe, who together with countless other railroaders, contributed mightily to America's efforts during World War II.
Rob Krebs, retired Chairman & CEO, ATST and BNSF
See photos from the book:
Jack Delano Photographs [Photograph DMA_1821-03]
Photograph of the exhibition "Jack Delano Photographs," September-December 1995, held at the Dallas Museum of Art.
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Photograph of the exhibition "Jack Delano Photographs," September-December 1995, held at the Dallas Museum of Art.
1 photograph : positive, col. 35 mm.
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Jack Delano Photographs [Exhibition Photographs] (Collection)
Photographs of the exhibition "Jack Delano Photographs," September-December 1995, held at the Dallas Museum of Art. Photographs documenting this exhibition include four gallery installation views.
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