Thursday, September 18, 2008

Old Pictures

Minnehaha Campfire girls (photo by Sammy Fischer and taken from the Eccles-Lesher Memorial Library collection - link to the full collection appears below)

Have you ever stumbled across a stash or record of old photos and thought that it looked like those people lived in another world? Awhile ago, I set up a gallery for a collection of glass slides for a CD-ROM for the library at which my sister works. The collection is a fascinating set of photos taken by a man named Sammy Fischer who took the pictures around 1919 (this is one of the years written on one of the pictures).

The world shown in those pictures seems to little resemble the one we live in today. There are horse races on the fair grounds and old cars. There's a "water plant" which is little more than a rickety-looking water tower. Buildings all look inelegant and utilitarian. All of them are a bit shoddy-looking, but this was the norm of the day. There are people dressed in football, band, military, and scout uniforms that betray the times. I also noticed that few people are smiling in many of the group pictures and I wonder what that says about the zeitgeist they lived in. If you have some time, you might want to browse the pictures. They're both fascinating and haunting.

I have a lot of these sorts of old family photos but, unfortunately, many of them are damaged or of poor quality.

Time passes for us all and we change as does the world around us. Recently, I was looking through a collection of my own family photos and I was profoundly struck by how our family pictures now appear to have been taken from another age. The picture above is my sister on a pony (my mother crouches behind the pony because she doesn't want her picture taken). The picture also shows the fact that there was a gas pump at the corner of our front lawn at that time. There was never a gas station there, but at some point in time, one could have a gas pump on their property, it seems.

It's sort of freaky to look back on these pictures and know that someone else will view them as being from "another age". I'm old enough to have grown up in a time which was markedly different from the world we now live in. You can see it in the way our house was built, the way our toys looked, and the fact that poor kids had ponies. This sort of freaks me out. I wish I could say I can be philosophical about it, but I really can't. It's not so much that I feel old (though I always do and have since my late teens), but more that the pace of change in the world gives me a sense of it hurtling forward purposelessly at breakneck speed and I'm really ready for it to slow down now (pretty please?).


Roy said...

What strikes me the most when I look at old photos of strangers is that many of the faces are similar to people I know now. I guess 100 or 200 years is still only a split second in the evolutionary timeline.

Orchid64 said...

I think the people look similar, but the looks on their faces are different. The old pictures from the early 1900's that I linked to seem to be full of stoic and serious people for the most part. You see more people laughing, smiling, and carrying on in modern pictures. It's as if they feel they camera has to record good times. You only see real emotions in candid shots or pictures where people are unaware of the camera.

'badmoodguy' is mike said...

I have a slide holder full of slides that my grandparents had for a number of years. Mostly b&w images of scenery, but a few people that I don't recognize. I have no idea why I carry them with me from house to house. Perhaps one day I will scan them.

The few images of people do show rather solemn faces, as you said. I think you are cameras have to record good times only it seems.

I used to be a manager of a photo lab for a large retailer years ago, and I remember that the vast majority of pictures we'd develop were of people having a good time. Except for the police evidence photos and the creepy old ladies that took pictures at every funeral they attended...

Roy said...

The stoic expressions are easily explainable. Cameras (film) back then required very long exposures (usually a few seconds), they didn't have shutters but rather the photographer would take a cap off the lens to expose the film and put it back on after a period of time. Most people were told not to move or laugh otherwise ruin the photo.

It was not until the invention of the flash and faster film (I'm guessing around the 1930's) that you saw more candid photos. Even up until around 1960 the camera was a luxury item and most family photos were still taken in a studio.

Roy said...

I also should add that we take photography for granted in this modern era where photos are all around us and we have an idea in our heads how to "behave" in a photo. In those days, they probably had only seen a handful of photos and assumed that standing still was the normal way to pose.

Emsk said...

I love old photos! I must scan the one of my granny when she was in the Land Army holding a huge cabbage.

The b/w quality lends a different feel to it as well. When I look at photos of my parents when they were young it really does feel like they've come from the past. I sometimes think it won't feel so far back when our kids look at pictures of us when we were young - although the 70's kids' fashions might be a bit of a give-away.