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The Extraordinary Chicago Railroad Photography of Jack Delano

One of the overlooked masters of the government’s FSA/OWI program is Jack Delano, who captured a pivotal moment in industrial Chicago at the height of World War II.

Long before I moved to Chicago, I fell in love with it through the wartime photographs of Jack Delano, a Ukrainian immigrant who came to work for the federal government in the Farm Security Administration under the direction of economist/photographer Roy Stryker, and later moved to the Office of War Information when the FSA was canned.

Delano did extraordinary things with light, being able to capture the glow of a sunset, a welding iron, a skyline, or the eyes of a worker. His color photographs for the OWI work in the mode of heroic realism—on one level they’re propaganda, but they’re also remarkably composed. His photographs of sand-house workers and boilermakers are lit like Renaissance paintings.

And, I have to admit, the propaganda worked on me. A year in, and I’m still glad to be living within hearing distance of a roundhouse.

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