Jack Delano and the Greene County Jail Dance

Greene County Jail, Jack Delano, 1941Georgia, June 1941. Photo by Jack Delano.

Jack Delano, was one  of the group of photographers who fanned out throughout the United States in the 1930’s and 40’s on behalf of the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration (FSA).

Delano was not as well known as the other F.S.A. photographers, who included Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee. Mr. Delano created images of people and places of surpassing elegance and empathy. Certain of his beautifully detailed, crisp black-and-white prints show the Evans influence, but his work also had the verve and deep insight of Lange and the technical curiosity and skill of Lee.

Mr. Delano was hired in 1940 by Roy E. Stryker, the legendary director of the historical section of the F.S.A. First assigned to photograph every aspect of workers’ lives in the Eastern Seaboard states from Florida to Maine, Mr. Delano subsequently went to Greene County as well as to Chicago, photographing their black communities, and to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. After serving as a military photographer during World War II, he and the graphic artist Irene Esser, whom he married in 1940, returned to Puerto Rico to do a book of photographs on the island after he won a Guggenheim fellowship. It took him several decades to complete the project, titled ”Puerto Rico Mio,” which was published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 1990.

Born on Aug. 1, 1914, in Ukraine, Jacob Ovcharov came to the United States with his parents when he was 8. He grew up in Philadelphia, and first thought he wanted to become a concert violinist. But it was the later goal of becoming a magazine illustrator that led him to enroll in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

During his last year at the academy his fellow students insisted he change his last name. (His parents had already renamed him Jack, after the boxer Jack Dempsey.) One student suggested her family allow him to use her name, which was Delano.

Delano’s work was noted for excellent craft, intimacy with subject matter and his ability to relate to all ethnicities and people.

For more work by Jack Delano, see: http://www.shorpy.com/jack-delano-photos and for a great interview: http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-jack-and-irene-delano-13026



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1 Comment

  1. Great essay, I think the student that he got his name Delano from was Laura Delano, my mother’s best friend.