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Amarillo Before Instagram: The Photographs of Jack Delano

Passing an eastbound freight train in Dawn, Texas.jpg

Jack Delano arrived in the United States in 1923. Two decades later, he passed through Amarillo, Texas, capturing moments otherwise lost to time.

Born Jacob Ovcharov in what we now call Ukraine, Delano immigrated at the age of nine with his family. They settled in Philadelphia, where Delano studied at the Settlement Music School and the Curtis Institute. His hard work brought him a Cresson Traveling Scholarship that allowed him to travel Europe, where he bought a camera. 

After his graduation, Delano applied to the Farm Security Administration Photography program. On the condition he provided his own car, Delano traveled the continental United States, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. 

March, 1943, found Delano on the Santa Fe railroad with a stop at Amarillo, where the Amarillo Army Airfield had activated the year before. Founded in 1890 with 482 residents, the population of the city reached over 50,000 in 1943. In the area around Amarillo, Delano photographed railroad workers, farms, stockyards, and the city’s rising skyline. 

[Photographs, suggested beginning with “Conductor J.R. Crawford.jpg.” Place “Passing an eastbound freight train in Dawn, Texas.jpg” after the end. Use filenames as captions.]

Later that same year, the FSA was eliminated as “budget waste” and absorbed into the Office of War Information. Meanwhile, Delano was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces. 

The FSA program gathered together some of the most revered Depression-era photographers, including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks. The group photographed the unseen parts and people of the United States, and their work played a major role in shaping our memories of the Great Depression. Of the 250,000 photographs taken as part of the project, about half still survive. Considered a national treasure, the Library of Congress preserves the remaining collection, which can be found here.

Having fallen in love with Puerto Rico during his work for the FSA, Delano moved there with his wife after his military service. Together they produced films for the Community Division of the Department of Public Education. Their most remembered creations include a documentary about the cellist Pablo Casals and Los peloteros, which tells the story of impoverished children who love baseball. Some film scholars have named Los peloteros the Citizen Kane of Latin cinema. Many decades after his work with the FSA, he revisited some of the same locations, sometimes photographing the same people he first met in the 1940s. In 1997, Jack Delano passed away at the age of 83.

[Passing an eastbound freight train in Dawn, Texas.jpg]

Sources:

“Portrait of an Artist: Jack Délano” by Francisco J. Cabán-Vales, Musiké

Washington Post obituary

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