Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Search for Harvest Pictures

On October 18, 20ll, I posted a blog about my search for pictures of harvesting grain in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Many kind and generous people responded and Nancy and I have looked at hundreds of photographs, but pictures of the mid-century vintage are really hard to find. Why?

 Pictures of threshing in the 1900s to 1930s on big farms with big crews are easy to find, but my story, A Farm Country Harvest, is a story about a farm family on a very small farm. Even though I will use some of those pictures of the big operations, I need pictures that reflect the small farm to tell my story.

Obviously, I don't know the whole answer to the question "Why are pictures of small farm families threshing grain around 1950 hard to find?", but I can explain what I've seen so far that allows me to list a few of reasons in no particular order:
1) Big Farms are what get recorded. The big gathering of workers, the big rigs, and the large fields all make appealing photos and meat for stories.

2) Photography in early part of century vs 1950. Photography in the early 1900s was a new phenomenon that caught on quickly. Professional photographers set up studios in small towns all over rural areas and getting pictures taken was a ritual and a sign of prosperity. Small farmers probably weren't that prosperous to get it recorded in a photo.
In the middle of the century, people had their own small cameras and pictures were no big deal. My mother had  Brownie that mostly stayed in the drawer except for special occasions when we were dressed up. We never thought of snapping a picture of everyday things like threshing or killing chickens.

3) 1950 is too recent–photos of 1950s farming may still in be in boxes stored in closets and will not make it to historical societies for another decade or two. I hope they are out there. If so, let me know.

4) Small farmers didn't have the time nor the money to take pictures. I remember the film and the development came from egg money, and there was a long list of things that came from egg money. Sometimes there weren't that many eggs.
When Mom finally did get some film developed, there would be pictures in the roll over a year old.

So the reason I write my stories about small farms is that history does a great job of telling the stories of the big-time operators, the rich, the famous, the wars, the outlaws, etc. Enron and Wall Street get coverage; but hard-working people who struggle from month to month to pay bills are not considered newsworthy or worthy of being in the central plot of a story. That is why I am compelled to write my stories about families on small farms to preserve the farm heritage of all the people who started with nothing and ended up with not a lot, but in the interim invented ways to make a living on their small piece of land and enjoyed their hard life.

Please let me know if you have photos that I can use for my Harvest story. I offer a free book to anyone whose photos I use.
Email me at twogfsc@integra.net

Marianne Mastenbrook, who works in the archives of the Winona County Historical Society, kindly answered my appeal when I sent it out last October. Yesterday, Nancy and drove down to Winona and visited the archives at the fabulous new Museum. We found many pictures to our liking and are very thankful we made the trip. Thanks for your help, Marianne.

Nancy snapped a photo of me looking through the collection of farm pictures at the Winona County Historical Society in the new Museum at Winona, Minnesota. 

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