Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Photographs from long ago

I would like to say that this has been a crazy week, that I've been SO BUSY that I didn't even have time to surf the internet, but actually, it's been pretty calm. There's been some definite reading of actual books, which I'm sure you'll hear about soon, but the internet and I have had plenty of facetime.

Facetime which, BRILLIANTLY, led to the discovery of this little site today: Square America: A Gallery of Vintage Snapshots and Vernacular Photography. Do you even know what this means?

It means this:

And this:

And this:

I've always loved vernacular photography, especially the kind that comes in old hat boxes. The curator of Square America is seriously dedicated, describing the site as

dedicated to preserving and displaying vintage snapshots from the first 3/4s of the 20th Century. Not only do these photographs contain a wealth of primary source information on how life was lived they also constitute a shadow history of photography, one too often ignored by museums and art galleries. Or at least that's what I tell people- more accurately, the site is a catalog of my obsession with vintage photographs. For the last eight years or so I've spent countless hours digging through boxes of old snapshots at flea markets (mostly here in Chicago and in NYC) and too much money buying photos on eBay. The site is my attempt to create some kind of organizational framework, however idiosyncratic, for the sprawling mess my collecting has created. More importantly, now that the site is up I can tell people that I'm a curator rather than a collector.

During high school I occasionally worked at a used bookstore, the kind that was like an attic open for business. There was an old bank of card catalog drawers that I would, occasionally, open and close, finding Pez dispensers, homeless buttons, and one day, a thick stack of black-and-white photographs from somebody's long-ago life. Frankly, I was as fascinated by the presence of the photos as the photos themselves; what kind of person sells their family photographs to strangers? But then again, I suppose an equally valid question would be, what kind of person plasters their college dorm room with the family photographs of strangers?

And, fortunately or unfortunately, that would be me.

In any case, I am crazy about this website. It is like the unfamous counterpart to the New York Public Library Digital Images Gallery, with which you might be familiar, and for that reason I will spend many hours dreaming about the stories behind these pictures, the lives that left these now-public remainders. Of course these are amazing for any historian, but just think what a creative writing teacher could do with this website! Pick a photo and write the story behind it? Maybe at 826 Boston...

Sites like these make me want to document my life better so that someone can find the traces of it someday, and wonder.

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