Bill Wood's Better Commercial Pictures Took

Wood was no artist. That's what makes him interesting.

But there's something that makes me hesitate at viewing these photos through the filter of our current standards, either for fashion or political correctness. This is not out of charity because Wood (essentially a good ol' boy who was born and died in Fort Worth) never "rose" to the level of Frank's or Winograd's distanced critique. Nor is it out of nostalgia, a longing for a time when the U.S. was at peace, and businesses (like Wood's) were owned and operated by individuals rather than conglomerates, and development, to people living in the vast American West, meant prosperity rather than destruction. Instead, it's partly because Wood's images of Americans smiling in their uniforms, offering a quick product demonstration, receiving congratulations, or finally getting sick and lying in their coffins, were taken by a fellow striver.

The striver: Woman demonstrating jalousie window unit, by Bill Wood, 1960
Billye Cooper and Connie Bruner, International Center of Photography, Promised Gift of Diane Keaton
The striver: Woman demonstrating jalousie window unit, by Bill Wood, 1960

Moreover, it's this: Wood's subjects, posed carefully in front of the camera—unlike straight photography's ostensibly unposed aesthetic—gaze tentatively, sometimes almost sheepishly, into the lens, as if to ask: "Am I doing it right?" Spend some time with these pictures and you'll begin to wonder: Is it fair to look back with the arrogance of historical hindsight and say no?

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