The Stories of Standard Oil

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Gordon Parks
, [Portrait of the Owner of the General Store], 1943-50 (149.1983)

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 Sol Libsohn, U.S. 22, Pennsylvania, 1945 (153.1983)

After a rather abrupt ending of funding for the photographic project of the Farm Security Administration, Roy Stryker accepted another challenge: he would lead a documenting project that would improve the public image of the New Jersey based company Standard Oil. Stryker worked with a group of dedicated, now legendary, photographers who documented the operations in the field of Standard Oil Company and visualized a wide variety of topics that related to the oil industry. Photographers such as Gordon Parks, Sol Libsohn, Todd Webb, Esther Bubley and among others, documented countless subjects, voices and angles to tell the stories of all the people and places involved in or affected by the oil industry in the United States.

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Esther Bubley, Oilfield Family in Their Tent, Andrews, 1945 (136.1983)

Although Stryker insisted his photographers to be well-informed before they started their work, they were free to pursue their own individual approaches and tell their stories according to each photographer’s unique visual style: with intimate and lively images of families and communities Esther Bubley would illustrate daily life in small towns in the American South; Sol Libsohn documented truck driver’s arduous work in stark, black and white images, where other photographs he took throughout the country show his keen eye for strong, abstracted compositions and the sensitivity to document human interaction; Gordon Parks’ images of farmhouses, miners and the use of portraiture reveal his talent to grasp the different environments affecting each of the individual lives; typical for the photographic style of Todd Webb, the scenes in his photographs are composed in such a way they are being elevated from the general story and become individual icons of a place and era in the United States of the 1940s.

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Todd Webb
, Houses from the Bloomfield Bridge, Pittsburgh, 1943-50 (191.1983)

The Standard Oil Company photography project started in 1943. By the time it ended, in 1950, roughly 67,000 photographs had been taken. The International Center of Photography holds approximately 190 photographs in its Collection.

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 Sol Libsohn, Laying Pipeline Across the Mississippi River, 1944 (239.1983)

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About claartjevandijk

Assistant Curator, Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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