Rondal Partridge picked up photography at an early age. "I started at five or six," he recalls, "printing for my mother."
"I was brought up in a sort of liberal mode," Rondal told us. Although his father was very conservative, his mother "was sort of a Socialist - anyway, she voted for Norman Thomas." Rondal decided early on that he would approach life with an open mind, an attitude that greatly influenced his photographic work.
Rondal worked as a photographic assistant during the thirties for Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange. After Dorothea Lange was fired from the Farm Security Administration she suggested to Rondal that he do something with the National Youth Administration and promised to "put in a good word for me."
She must have. Rondal didn't even contact the NYA, but a short while later the California office offered him a ninety-day assignment. "You're on your own," they told him. "Do whatever you want."
It was 1940. The War in Europe was underway and it was clear to Rondal that America would soon be at war, as well. He decided to document America's youth as they stood at the brink of World War II. Traveling from Berkeley to Los Angeles, meeting and photographing high school students, motorcyclists, hitchhikers and farmworkers, Rondal's keen eye and ear captured both their images and their convictions. Some gathered together at peace rallies and some studied aircraft mechanics in the storefront schools which sprang up like mushrooms across California's Southland to meet the demands of the area's booming aircraft industry. Yet all of them - farmworkers, students, and aircraft workers - would soon be touched by war.
Rondal landed his first real professional job just as he was preparing these photographs to be sent to the National Youth Administration headquarters in Washington, D.C. "A guy dropped by the house from the Black Star Agency and saw the photos. He hired me and I went to New York."
He worked there for a while as a photo-journalist, and then served in the Navy during World War II. Afterwards, he returned to journalism and did assignments for Look, Life, and Collier's Magazine.
Rondal's written observations and his investigation into the lives of his subjects are as much a part of his work as is his photography. "I don't call it art," he says (although others might disagree). "I make documents of what I see and what I think."
Rondal Partridge lives in Berkeley, California and is still taking pictures. His recent photographs can be seen at the 969 Gallery in New York City.
His early work - in the public domain but largely hidden from the public eye - is now available for viewing on the New Deal Network.