Saturday, October 5, 2019

From the Archives: Boston, Massachusetts, in 1944

My father spent part of the World War II working for the US Navy in Puerto Rico. He returned to Boston in 1944 when his contract was over. He had always been a keen photographer and took many pictures of relatives and their friends. I looked through his Kodachrome slides and found only four of Boston. He probably thought that everyone photographed Boston and that mundane city scenes were uninteresting. It is a pity because mundane street scenes take on a documentary importance as the years and decades pass.

Charles River from Cambridge, Massachusetts
Boston and Charles River from Cambridge
Boston Garden and Swan Boat (pedaled by human power)
Boston harbor, Anscochrome transparency

These photographs look so innocent, so tourist-like. But consider the geopolitical conditions of 1944. The world was at war. In the Soviet Union, Soviet armies were painfully beating back the German army in immense battles during which tens of thousands on both side perished. Russian and Ukrainian peasants were starving in their destroyed villages, and German civilians in the homeland were also close to malnutrition. In the Pacific, American troops were slowly clearing islands of Japanese occupiers at horrifying cost. In China, millions were starving. But in the United States, children sailed on the Charles River and the Boston Garden was clean and blooming with flowers. A civilian could buy Kodachrome film and get it processed. (It is possibly that my dad bought the Kodachrome at the Navy base in Puerto Rico at his former job, but nevertheless, he felt secure enough in its availability to take casual pictures.) War must have felt far away, although Americans were unified in beating the Axis powers.

I believe these photographs were from an American-made Perfex 35mm camera. In the future, I need to scan many more of my dad's 1944 frames of family events and casual gatherings.

I have written about Boston before (click this link about Quincy Market). I wish I had taken far more pictures of ordinary scenes. You can also type "Boston" in the search box.

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