Worker At A Carbon Black Plant In Sunray, Texas. 1942.
Carbon black is produced by combusting natural gas with insufficient oxygen. As a reinforcing filler for rubber products, such as tires, carbon black was an important resource during World War II, when this photograph was taken.
The photographer was John Vachon, who worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). He wrote to his wife, Penny, about his experience photographing the carbon black plant in Sunray, Texas:
The [Texas] panhandle is the seat of the carbon black industry… From 5 or 10 miles it’s a huge black cloud out there ahead of you. Then you drive right up to it and it’s just exactly like driving from a sunny day into the middle of night.
About the best pictures I got this year, I think, will prove to be the portraits of some of the black faced workers there. I got so excited about these guys that I shot up all the film I had with me, and didn’t get pix of the buildings, and various operations. So I’ll have to go back again. And I’ll sure make some more of those portraits.