Protractors, number two pencils, a new pair of shoes—what a feeling. With summer vacation nearing an end, we’re celebrating back-to-school nostalgia with a new Vintage Edition. Click your heels together and transport yourself to this 1943 Washington D.C. classroom with Esther Bubley’s photograph, Saddle Shoes.
Bubley, born two years after the end of World War I, spent the beginning of her career photographing American life during World War II. Her work is full of compassionate, intimate images that capture the nuances of her subjects and the complexities of everyday life. As a schoolgirl, Bubley became enamored with Life Magazine and in 1951 she began freelancing for the iconic organization, contributing several cover stories and dozens of photo essays. Her dedication to capturing life’s ordinary, and deeply relatable, moments helped her to become one of the first women to successfully support herself with a freelance career in photojournalism.
In Saddle Shoes, a student at Woodrow Wilson High props up her fresh kicks framed by the hazy shadow of the stool and slightly rumpled skirt. The background is obscured; the stylish saddles are given sole focus.
Saddle Shoes summons the sentimentality of school days. A master of capturing quiet intimacy, Bubley used her signature soft focus and close composition to conjure up those first day jitters. Selecting the perfect outfit. Learning new words. Acing a test. Mastering that locker combo. Or even choosing a quirky Zoom background. Bubley’s wistful image encapsulates the delights and anticipation of a new semester. Whether you’re lacing up for the classroom or sliding into those slips for an at-home study sesh, this BTS vibe is universal.
With art for everyone,