A blustery rainstorm blew through Indianapolis in January, 1942. Photographer John Vachon was in Indy on assignment for the Farm Security Administration, and he chose to document street scenes with his small rangefinder Leica as the storm blew through. 

70 years later in January, 2012 I found where he stood and re-photographed the scene. Aside from the fedoras and more chrome on the cars, little had changed.

Over the next weeks, I will find and  re-photograph more historic photos and share them. I enjoy the hunt, and there is a visceral thrill in standing exactly where past photographers stood and updating their work for this modern world. I imagine that another layer might be added in another half century…

About John Vachon: His entry into photography was unusual – his first job at the Farm Security Administration in 1936 carried the title “assistant messenger.” He was 21 and had no intention of becoming a photographer, but as his responsibilities increased for maintaining the FSA photographic file, his interest in photography grew. By 1937 Vachon had looked enough at others’ work to want to make photographs himself, and with advice from his boss he tried out a Leica in and around Washington, DC. It was probably that camera he used on these photos in Indianapolis a few years later.

The hallmark of his style of photography is the portrayal of people and places encountered on the street, unembellished by the ‘beautifying’ efforts used by public relations photographers. Vachon was a photographer for the government and then staff photographer for Standard Oil in the 1940’s. He became a staff photographer for Life magazine, where he worked between 1947 and 1949, and for over twenty five years beginning in 1947 at Look magazine. In 1953 Vachon took the first pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio together when Monroe procured a sprained ankle in Canada. He died in 1975 in New York at age 60.