Shorpy.com is without a doubt the finest high resolution photo archive available online. Their collection holds thousands of 8×10 plate glass negatives, all meticulously scanned and retouched, revealing an enthralling portrait of America from the Civil war through WWII unlike any you’ve seen before.
As was common for the era, most images are group portraits or carefully positioned city-scapes crafted to show the very best of prosperity and industrialization. Highlighting some of this style, a previous collection featured here on Rebel Metropolis titled ‘Examining Street Life Before the Automobile‘ revealed vibrant metropolitan thoroughfares prior to the domination of the car.
When perusing Shorpy’s archive, what stands out overall, inevitably, are the blatant class divides of the period, the abject racism, the sub-human status placed on women – far more so than today. Just as alarming are the frank depictions of rabid and unrelenting environmental destruction. The wood and steel infrastructure destined for booming metropolises is shown ripped from the earth, burned into the air, forged into capital while anything unprofitable gets poured back into the ground, smothering soil with toxic heavy metals.