Esther Bubley is one of my favorite photographers. (I've written about her, here and here.) On Memorial Day, 1943, she was all of 22 years old and working for Roy Stryker's legendary documentary project, which had recently moved to the Office of War Information [OWI] from the Farm Security Administration [FSA].
Esther Bubley: Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Boy scout color bearer listening to the Memorial Day ceremony. 1943. (All photos are from the FSA/OWI collection at the Library of Congress. Click on any image to see much larger versions.)
I don't know whether Stryker told Bubley to visit Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day or whether she went on her own. On the one hand, it was exactly the event that the OWI was created to document; on the other, it was the sort of assignment that occured naturally to Bubley. Either way, the photos, with their concentration on people and faces, a very much Bubley's.
Esther Bubley: Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. American Legion color bearer at the Memorial Day services in the amphitheater. 1943.
Many of the photos that Bubley made for Stryker were shot in and around Washington, D.C., for at least a couple of very good reasons. First, Bubley didn't drive and had to rely on public transportation to get around. In fact, her best known out-of-town assignment documents cross-country bus travel. Second, during the war, Washington was a boom town, with tens of thousands of people pouring in from all over the country. There was a lot to photograph.
Esther Bubley: Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Decorating a soldier's grave in one of the Negro sections on Memorial Day. 1943.
Bubley was no ironist, but she had an eye for life's incongruities (and, more importantly, an eye for injustice). Here, as always, she's pointing, not shouting, showing us women are honoring men who had died fighting for a country that deemed them second-class citizens.