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Amazing Found Photos of Life During Wartime

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Ransom Riggs turned his found photo collection into a book called Talking Pictures.

I have all kinds of snapshots with writing on them, but some of my favorites deal with life during wartime. They're not as easy to find as shots of babies and vacations—especially photos from World War II, when film was harder to come by for a time—but they're often powerful and worth searching out. 

Just to be clear, for the most part these are the fronts and backs of photos. (The good stuff's usually on the back!)

That greatest of equalizers: the buzzcut.

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This one's a little tough to read, but the first few lines give you an idea. They got married right before he joined up. She really must've missed him.

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A lot of wartime photos with writing were included with letters home.

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There's a lot of long-distance taunting of the enemy that goes on in them. I wonder if this is Parris Island. Or if WWII soldiers in training learned how to subdue Hitler in case they happened upon him.

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WWII soldiers tended to write home about happy things -- or put a jokey face on the trials they went through, like this fellow who, randomly, served on an island in Vanuatu where I spent some time.

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But they're not all jokes. Things get real pretty fast -- especially in Polaroids from soldiers in Vietnam.

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As soldiers get closer to the end of their rotations, they tend to talk more about returning, as if they had only just begun to allow themselves to fantasize about it.

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It's not exactly a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, but this man seems pretty happy about the end of the war.

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Courtesy of Nikon
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science
Microscopic Videos Provide a Rare Close-Up Glimpse of the Natural World
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Courtesy of Nikon

Nature’s wonders aren’t always visible to the naked eye. To celebrate the miniature realm, Nikon’s Small World in Motion digital video competition awards prizes to the most stunning microscopic moving images, as filmed and submitted by photographers and scientists. The winners of the seventh annual competition were just announced on September 21—and you can check out the top submissions below.

FIRST PRIZE

Daniel von Wangenheim, a biologist at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, took first place with a time-lapse video of thale cress root growth. For the uninitiated, thale cress—known to scientists as Arabidopsis thalianais a small flowering plant, considered by many to be a weed. Plant and genetics researchers like thale cress because of its fast growth cycle, abundant seed production, ability to pollinate itself, and wild genes, which haven’t been subjected to breeding and artificial selection.

Von Wangenheim’s footage condenses 17 hours of root tip growth into just 10 seconds. Magnified with a confocal microscope, the root appears neon green and pink—but von Wangenheim’s work shouldn’t be appreciated only for its aesthetics, he explains in a Nikon news release.

"Once we have a better understanding of the behavior of plant roots and its underlying mechanisms, we can help them grow deeper into the soil to reach water, or defy gravity in upper areas of the soil to adjust their root branching angle to areas with richer nutrients," said von Wangenheim, who studies how plants perceive and respond to gravity. "One step further, this could finally help to successfully grow plants under microgravity conditions in outer space—to provide food for astronauts in long-lasting missions."

SECOND PRIZE

Second place went to Tsutomu Tomita and Shun Miyazaki, both seasoned micro-photographers. They used a stereomicroscope to create a time-lapse video of a sweating fingertip, resulting in footage that’s both mesmerizing and gross.

To prompt the scene, "Tomita created tension amongst the subjects by showing them a video of daredevils climbing to the top of a skyscraper," according to Nikon. "Sweating is a common part of daily life, but being able to see it at a microscopic level is equal parts enlightening and cringe-worthy."

THIRD PRIZE

Third prize was awarded to Satoshi Nishimura, a professor from Japan’s Jichi Medical University who’s also a photography hobbyist. He filmed leukocyte accumulations and platelet aggregations in injured mouse cells. The rainbow-hued video "provides a rare look at how the body reacts to a puncture wound and begins the healing process by creating a blood clot," Nikon said.

To view the complete list of winners, visit Nikon’s website.

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Department of the Interior. Office of Indian Affairs. Fort Totten Agency. 1903-1947, National Archives and Records Administration
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History
Help the National Archives Tag Photos of Life on Native American Reservations
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Department of the Interior. Office of Indian Affairs. Fort Totten Agency. 1903-1947, National Archives and Records Administration

The National Archives needs your help. The federal agency is looking for volunteer archivists to make its collections of photography from life on Native American reservations more accessible via online searches.

Volunteers will tag these historic photos of reservation life, taken in the early- and mid-20th century by photographers from federal agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Citizen archivists can generate searchable tags by identifying the people, places, and activities shown in the images. It helps if you have a bit of insider knowledge and can recognize individuals or the locations where the images were shot, but non-experts can lend a hand by labeling what's happening in the photos.

Corn dries in front of a log cabin.
Department of the Interior. Office of Indian Affairs. Fort Totten Agency. 1903-1947, National Archives and Records Administration

The collections span everything from images of 4-H participants from 1933 to photos of locations you can no longer see, such as parts of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota that were flooded by the construction of a dam in the late 1940s, causing the tribes who lived there to lose 94 percent of their agricultural land. Tagging these photos makes these vital documentations of reservation life more accessible to the public and to scholars.

Previously, the National Archives has solicited regular folks for other digitization projects, including transcribing declassified documents that included records from UFO sightings and tagging a congressional cookbook.

To participate, start with the National Archives' email newsletter, which contains some ideas for which collections to start on. You can register as a "citizen archivist" on archives.gov.

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