Old Glory flying, California, 1967

July 2, 2012

For thirty years, Charles Cushman documented a dying landscape in living color. From 1938 to 1969, Cushman, a 1917 IU graduate, criss-crossed the nation, driving roughly a half-million miles with his wife, Jean, and his Contax II A camera, capturing a country in transition. Along the way, he amassed nearly 14,50o color Kodachrome slides capturing details of farms, highways, factories, small towns, and bit cities, such as Old Glory flying at Point Reyes, California. In 1972, shortly after Cushman’s death, the bulk of his work was donated to the Indiana University Archives.

Since then, the IU Archives and its Digital Library Program have preserved and curated the Cushman slides, creating the Charles W. Cushman Photography Collection online. Earlier this year, Eric Sandweiss, Carmony, associate professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, published A Day in Its Color: Charles Cushman’s Photographic Journey Through a Vanishing America (Oxford University Press 2012), to document Cushman’s journey and his photographs as well as the photographer’s surprising life (Cushman was, for example, cousin to writer John Steinbeck).

In capturing mid-century America in such detail, Cushman preserved for us “the United States, c. 1938-1969, a place close enough to touch, but forever just out of reach,” says Sandweiss. As he writes in his introduction to A Day in Its Color:

This is a book, then about Charles Weever Cushman, a man whose life and career encompassed at a personal level many of the developments witnessed in American society at large during the nation’s most prosperous–and most perilous–century. It is also a book about the built landscape through which Cushman and other Americans moved in the middle years of that century, and a story, finally, about the particular tool — a 35 mm camera loaded with color film — that Cushman chose to help him mark his place in that world. …To learn more about the roads, farmlands, towns, and cities that lie on the other side of his lens is in turn to appreciate the important role of even familiar and ordinary places in framing the choices and experiences by which people define their lives. To look more closely at the technical medium that connected him to those places is to realize the great extent to which we construct the world around us with our eyes, and not just our hands.

For more on Sandweiss’s book, see: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ArtArchitecture/Photography/?view=usa&ci=9780199772339#Product_Details

For more on Cushman’s photo collection, see http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/cushman/index.jsp



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