The abstract term “infrastructure” vs. the days of 1917

“Subway porter,” 1917. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014704920/. Edited in Photoshop with Nik Dark Contrast adjustment.

By the exit from a crossroads one day in 1917 there stood no. 3594, underground in her clean blouse and her necklace. In 1917 she was accessorized with a name as well, but by now that has probably been erased from the record you’re seeing.

You may desire to say something self-assuring like “Nevertheless, I won’t forget no. 3594’s act of cleanness in the dark.” But since you know what has probably happened to no. 3594’s name, you probably shouldn’t. Just try to see without memory. Whatever memory is, it no longer has power over what remains to be seen of no. 3594.

Smiling ascent: allegory of the unconsciousness of progress

On October 19, 1915, Woodrow Wilson traveled to his political base in Princeton to cast his vote on the historical record for the Woman Suffrage Amendment, and a photographer for the Bain News Service was present as the president boarded his train for the return trip to Washington. The leather carrying case that held the photographer’s glass negatives remains visible to history, hanging by its strap from a spike on a telegraph pole. For aesthetic reasons, however, I’ve edited it and the pole out of the version of the photographer’s record that you see here. What I desired was this ascending diagonal with a possibly triumphant smile toward the apex. That allegorical moment, I decided, would be more fun to see than any ill-comprehended antique.

The uncropped, unphotoshopped original is in the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014700108/.

Wilson had begun his political career there in Princeton: first as a professor of history at the university, then as its president, then as governor of New Jersey. But (as history in the twenty-first century is now re-reminding us) as president of the United States he was a Southerner presiding over a cabinet full of Southerners, and on February 18, 1915, he was in the audience when, for the first time in history, a movie was shown in the White House: David Wark Griffith’s history-hymn to the Ku Klux Klan, The Birth of a Nation. Earlier, at Princeton, he had presided over an erasure from the historical record of evidence that the university had once had black students.

On the visual record, a century later, you see the faces of two black men in servants’ white jackets. One of them, the one on your right, may or may not be about to start or finish smiling. Princeton University was to admit and acknowledge black men before it admitted or acknowledged women.

 

Source: April C. Armstrong, “Erased Pasts and Altered Legacies: Princeton’s First African American Students.” Princeton & Slavery Project, Princeton University, 2020. https://slavery.princeton.edu/stories/erased-pasts-and-altered-legacies-princetons-first-african-american-students

Where time sleeps with shadow

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Lester Jones, August 24, 1940, “FIRST FLOOR, STAIRHALL – Shaker Centre Family Dwelling House (Third), North side of Village Road, North of Route 68 & State Route 33, Shakertown, Mercer County, KY.” Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ky0033.color.572148c/. Post-processed for color and detail. Additional data about this series of photographs are at https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ky0033.photos.071803p/.