While today you can produce ice almost as if by magic thanks to the wonders of refrigeration, less than a century ago, acquiring the stuff was a more laborious endeavor. It’s possible that the massive blocks of ice shown here had been harvested from northern states and delivered to the Lowcountry. Perhaps they were headed for an ice house, destined for distribution to local households. Unfortunately, the one-word caption that Swiss photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach provided, “Harbour,” reveals little of the backstory. However, we do know that she took the shot in Charleston between 1936 and 1938 as she toured the Deep South, capturing the struggles of the working class amidst the Great Depression. The bohemian explorer herself is plenty fascinating. Openly bisexual, she was glamorously androgynous, with her cropped hair and men’s clothing; an anti-fascist, with her financing of political literary magazine Die Sammlung; and a muse to many. Though she died in 1942, her work was rediscovered in the 1980s, and photos like these were unearthed, offering glimpses into the everyday lives of centuries past.
Photograph by Annemarie Schwarzenbach, courtesy of the Swiss National Library