Ansel Adams’ pictures of Los Angeles recall an era of war factories and 10-cent hot dogs
By Mike McPhate
11 - 14 minutes
We’ve all seen Ansel Adams’ luscious black-and-white images of Yosemite. Lesser known are his pictures of life in World War II-era Los Angeles.
In 1939, Fortune magazine commissioned the renowned photographer to document the city’s aerospace industry as the country was shoring up its air power.
Adams captured more than 200 images for the assignment, many focused on the lunchtime rituals of factory workers along with everyday street scenes he encountered as he ambled about the rapidly developing region.
He visited a bowling alley, a forest of oil derricks, and a trailer park, one of many that popped up to meet a fierce demand among the workers for temporary housing.
But only a handful of Adams’ images were published with the Fortune article, which marveled at the juxtaposition of the arsenal-making effort in the land of orange groves, neon signs, and movie stars.
It wasn’t until a couple decades later that Adams rediscovered his old photos and offered them somewhat meekly to the Los Angeles Public Library. “The weather was bad over a rather long period,” he wrote in a letter. “None of the pictures were very good.”
The library respectfully disagreed. “Even though you say they are not your best work,” a librarian wrote in response, “they present an interesting and useful study of the Los Angeles area in the late 1930s.”
Check out 21 more images from the collection below.
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