Military and political events overseas were not the only subjects reporters and photographers covered during World War II. Photographer Esther Bubley (b. 1921) found ample subject matter to explore on the American homefront as the nation mobilized for war.
Twenty-year-old Bubley arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1941, fresh from art school and a short stint with Vogue and eager to earn a living with her camera. Although she soon found work as a lab technician at the National Archives, Bubley's ambition was to work for Roy Stryker. Stryker, head of the documentary photography project of the Historical Section, Farm Security Administration (FSA) Documentary Photo project from 1935 to 1943, was an outstanding mentor and teacher, who attracted young photographers to work for him.
During her off-hours, Bubley set out to prove her camera skills by snapping wartime subjects around the nation's capital. Her unvarnished images of life in the city's boarding houses for war workers impressed Stryker enough to recruit the aspiring photographer into the Office of War Information (OWI), where the Historical Section had been relocated.
OWI sent Bubley on at least one cross-country bus trip, during which she produced hundreds of images of a country in transition from the doldrums of the Great Depression to the fevered pace of war. Unlike many of her colleagues, however, Bubley was not drawn to the awesome industrial complex spawned by the war, preferring instead to focus on average Americans. "Put me down with people, and it's just overwhelming," Bubley said of her focus on the human dimension of mobilization.
Last Day to Use Shoe Rationing Coupons
Esther Bubley, [A busy shoe store on the last day. …], June 1943.
Women War Workers in the Capital's Boarding Houses
Esther Bubley, [The schedule for use of the boarding house bathroom. …], January 1943.
Bending Gender Rules for "the Duration"
Esther Bubley, [An instructor of the Capital transit company. …], June 1943.
Waiting for the Bus in Memphis
Esther Bubley, [Waiting for a bus at the Memphis terminal], September 1943.