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Amazing 70-Year-Old Color Photos

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Sometimes looking at old photographs makes me think of this exchange between comic-strip hero Calvin and his dad:

Calvin: Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn't they have color film back then?
Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It's just the world was black and white then.
Calvin: Really?
Dad: Yep. The world didn't turn color until sometime in the 1930s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.
Calvin: But then why are old PAINTINGS in color?! If the world was black and white, wouldn't artists have painted it that way?
Dad: Not necessarily. A lot of great artists were insane.

As absurd as it sounds, there is a kind of psychological truth to it -- having seen mostly black-and-white pictures of the world pre-1960 or so (I'm not counting Technicolor movies), I begin to imagine the past unfolding in monochrome. Every once in a while, though, a really old color photo made with some obscure, early color process will slip through and blow my mind.

But this really takes the cake: the Library of Congress has a Flickr page, on which they've posted thousands of color slides -- many of them hauntingly beautiful. The photographers worked for the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information, for whom many famous black-and-white pictures were taken around the same time (the iconic "Migrant Mother," for instance).

But rather than sending you off to pick through thousands of these photos on Flickr -- something of a laborious process -- we've compiled our favorites here. These are portraits almost as compelling as "Migrant Mother," but even more vivid -- almost hyper-real -- for their eye-popping color. (In fact, they hardly seem like historical photos at all.) 

As for the main image above: "This husky member of a construction crew building a new 33,000-volt electric power line into Fort Knox is performing an important war service, Ft. Knox, Ky. Thousands of soldiers are in training there, and the new line from a hydroelectric plant at Louisville is needed to supplement the existing power supply." 1940

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A boilermaker at a Chicago train yard, 1942

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Boy near Cincinnati, Ohio, 1942

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"Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, Calif. Shown checking electrical assemblies." 1942

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"Mrs. Irene Bracker, mother of two children, employed at the roundhouse as a wiper, Clinton, Iowa." 1943

rural-schoolkids.jpgRural school children, San Augustine County, Texas, 1943.

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Farm worker, Puerto Rico, 1941.

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"A carpenter at the TVA's new Douglas dam on the French Broad River, Tenn. This dam will be 161 feet high and 1,682 feet ong, with a 31,600-acre reservoir area extending 43 miles upstream. With a useful storage capacity of approximately 1,330,000 acre-feet, this reservoir will make possible the addition of nearly 100,000 kw. of continuous power to the TVA system in dry years and almost 170,000 kw. in the average year." 1942

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"Making harnesses, Mary Saverick stitching, Pioneer Parachute Company Mills, Manchester, Conn." 1942

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"Couples at square dance, McIntosh County, Oklahoma," 1939.

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"Tank driver, Ft. Knox, Ky." 1942?

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"Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range, Madison County, Montana," August, 1942.

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Mechanic, 1943.

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"Worker at carbon black plant, Sunray, Texas," 1940.

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Lazy Cyclists Help Make These Massive Bike Graveyards in China
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STR/AFP/Getty Images

When bike share programs go right, they can make life easier for commuters while reducing a city’s impact on the environment at the same time. When they don't go exactly as planned, they can create sprawling bicycle graveyards like the one seen in these photos.

The eerie scenes, recently spotlighted by WIRED, can be found throughout the city of Hangzhou, China. Like many large cities, Hangzhou is home to an official bike share program. But there are also private bike share companies that give cyclists the option to pick up a bike and leave it wherever they please rather than return it to an official docking station. The result is thousands of bikes scattered around the city like junk.

In response to complaints, the city of Hangzhou has begun collecting these abandoned bikes and storing them in lots. These aerial images are a good indication of the sheer number of bikers the city has—and they also have a creepy, post-apocalyptic vibe. Check out the photos below.

Bike graveyard in China.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Bike graveyard in China.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Bike graveyard in China.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t WIRED]

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7 Throwback Photos of 1980s NYC Subway Graffiti
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In May 1989, after a 15-year-long campaign of slowly eradicating New York City’s subway graffiti train-by-train, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority officially declared the city’s subways graffiti-free. There’s still subway graffiti in New York City today, but now it's confined to rail yards far away from the stations and tunnels. By the time the trains make it back onto the tracks, they’ve been cleaned of any markings.

There was a time, though, when graffiti artists had near-free rein to use the city’s subway trains as their canvases, as much as the transportation agency tried to stop them. A new book of photography, From the Platform 2: More NYC Subway Graffiti, 1983–1989, is an ode to that period.

A photo taken at night shows a subway train tagged

Its authors, Paul and Kenny Cavalieri, are two brothers from the Bronx who began taking photos of subway trains in 1983, during the heyday of New York City's graffiti art era. They themselves were also graffiti artists who went by the names Cav and Key, respectively. (Above is an example of Cav's work from 1988, and below is an example of Key's.) Their book is a visual tribute to their youth, New York's graffiti culture, and their fellow artists.

For anyone who rides the New York City subway today, the images paint a whole different picture of the system. Let yourself be transported back to the '80s in some of these photos: 

A subway car bears tags by
Some of Kenny (Key) Cavalieri's work, circa 1987.

Graffiti on a subway car reads

Blue letters tagged on the exterior of a subway car read “Comet.”

Pink and blue lettering reads “Bio” on the outside of a subway car.

A subway car reads “Pove” in green letters.

The book includes short commentaries and essays from other artists of the period remembering their experiences painting trains. It's a follow-up to Paul Cavalieri’s original 2011 collection From the Platform: Subway Graffiti, 1983-1989. He’s also the author of Under the Bridge: The East 238th Street Graffiti Hall Of Fame, a history of four decades of graffiti in the Bronx.

From the Platform 2 is $30 on Amazon.

[h/t The Guardian]

All images courtesy Paul and Kenny Cavalieri // Schiffer Publishing

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