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One does not often look to bus stations for evocations of the poetic. Yet this prosaic setting provides the backdrop for many of the slyly revelatory images of ’40s America that comprise the Phillips Collection’s “Photographs by Esther Bubley” exhibit. Bubley was 21 in 1942 when she moved from Minnesota to Washington, D.C., eventually landing a job “documenting bus transportation in the U.S.” for the Office of War Information. Such unglamor ous projects were to become her stock-in-trade. In 1945, the Standard Oil Co. hired Bubley to preserve “the role of the oil industry in America” on film. A photograph of the artist from the era depicts Bubley, a petite, trousered woman with dainty bangs, captured against a massive, industrial oil drum, her camera balanced on her knee. It is Bubley’s great achievement that she brings a sense of character and emotion to these seemingly mundane subjects. Says the photographer: “People and their reactions to each other, that’s what interested me.” A museum docent discusses “Esther Bubley’s Images of Women in Sharp Focus” at 5 p.m. at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW. $5 (202) 387-2151. “Photographs by Esther Bubley” runs through Oct. 1. (Nicole Arthur)