Depression Magazines Photo Essay Photojournalist Fortune Home Page Communism Strikebreaking Wards Wool
The Stores and the Catalogue
(Margaret Bourke-White, Janurary 1935)
    How mail-ordering Montgomery Ward put 610 department stores on top of its catalogue. And how both were nearly ruined. But along came Sewell Lee Avery plus the U. S. Government. And now Ward's-and the farmers--are happier again.
Montgomery Wards      This article details the corporate giant, Montgomery Wards. The writer narrates the success story of Wards, broken at the Depression, and how it has recovered and exceeded its pre-crash production and profit levels. The photographer and writer describe how the new manager, Sewell Lee Avery, personally directed the amazing comeback. The corporation story treated companies as intricate but discernable machines. The corporation story taught that if a photographer captured the right angle (Bourke-White's tactic) or a convincing series of images, a story of capitalist success would emerge from the photographs. Clearly, photographers had an incentive to fuel Fortune's glorification of corporate capitalism and industry. Corporation stories often set aside an industrial "Fortune type photograph" for admiration. These images were displayed in the style of a portfolio and raised industrial forms to aesthetic beauty. This story on the mail-order side of Wards features many one-eighth size photographs with captions and text that move a reader through various stages of mail order--the assembly line, the envelope opening, bill collecting and returning, shipment--and all stages are rendered equally sharp, clean, sterile and inhuman. The striking subject of this essay's portfolio image is not the woman at its forefront, but the catalogues that tower behind her. This photograph is visually stimulating because of its vertical lines, textures, imbalance and movement. The photograph elevates a tedious task to high art by analyzing the efforts and setting of its subject. The Wool essay on the following page contains two such portfolio images, set off on separate pages with thick black borders, and both focus on industrial structures. Smaller photographs best serve the journalistic, narrative portion of the feature, while larger images are infused with romanticism and idealism towards industry. The text serves a secondary purpose to the photos--photographs are attributed but the text is not.

autoworker      Corporation stories often featured an industrial Fortune photograph that would be set aside for admiration in the style of a portfolio, raising capitalism to aesthetic beauty. This story on the mail-order side of the Wards business, for example, features many one-eighth size photographs with captions and text, but one image is set off on a separate page with a solid black border. The Wool essay on the following page contains two such portfolio images. The smaller photographs move the reader through the various stages of a mail order--the assembly line, the envelope opening, bill collecting and returning, shipment--and all are equally sharp and clean. These are clear documentary photographs that claim transparency, and the smaller images best serve the journalistic, narrative portion of the feature. The words serve a secondary purpose to the photos--a view that is evident because the artistic photographs are attributed, while the text is not. The art shot of the Ward's story that is set aside on its own page is visually stimulating with vertical lines, implied movement through imbalance, and textures. In heroicizing the efforts of its subject, the photograph elevates the tedious task of keeping a register of accounts to a high art itself.

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