Thursday, June 4, 2015

Faded Photographs

While browsing in a flea market, antique store, or cleaning out the attic of a family home have you opened a photo album with black paper or an old shoe box and found a stack of old black and white photographs? Maybe you stopped and wondered who these people where that graced the glossy surfaces.
You know they are from an era way before your time, the quality of the image may be poor being either over or underexposed. They may be blurred because of a slow shutter speed and a shaking hand, fingers may extend down over the lens, heads may be cut off as the view finder and the lens did not see the same part of the image.
Selfies are not new, one of the first was taken by Charles Eastman using his new development, the hand held box camera. His box camera opened the world of photography to the public for personal (amateur) photos. Its size may have become smaller over the years, but the same basic design lasted well into the 1960s. Today you will see examples gracing the shelves of antique stores.
A roll of film would allow 12 images, double images were a hazard when you forgot to wind the film, and flash bulbs provided light for indoor shots. You used your roll of film and then, either took it to the drug store or mailed it in a yellow envelope to be developed and the pictures printed. This generally took about a week or a little more before you could enjoy the product of the little box of immorality.
A careful exploration of the faded photographs revels four basic subject: stills, children, animals, and people. None of the are labeled so the futre viewer does not know where they where taken or who posed for the camera.

Still lifes are bowls of fruit, plants, holiday decorations, vehicles, homes, barns, etc. They are flat and lifeless with one shape blending into another without definition. Shadows, if they exist at all, are muddy and indistinct.

Children's faces are ugly squints as they face the sun. The instructions that came with the camera told the photographer to let the rays of the sun fall over his left shoulder to properly illuminate the subject. Children being who they are adore making funny faces for the camera.

Animals that were prized for their qualities or family pets are beloved subjects for the roving lens and were often used to finish a roll. Dogs and cats have enlarged heads and small bodies as the photographer was bending over bending over to snap the picture while the pets stretched to investigate this strange thing that was being that was being poked their way. Blurs were common where paws and tails moved while the shutter was open.

People are stilted and posed in groups, dressed in their Sunday best standing on steps, sitting on porches, or perched on the family car, but wearing phony smiles or grimaces of endurance while waiting for the photographer to study the image through the view finder.
The romanticize portrait of an individual, usually a girl posed against a tree was a common favorite. The setting was used by amateur and professional alike. The worst one of this genre I ever saw was the engagement photo of a former student. The trunk of the tree was covered with poison ivy, It required hospitalization and two weeks for her to recover from the photo session.

On rare occasions you will discover a jewel where luck played a greater factor than skill. Treaure these old photographs as they are a glimpse into everyone's past.

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