Friday, July 25, 2014

Found Photo Friday: Everyday Surrealism

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Last night the Art Institute of Chicago offered free admission to its Magritte exhibition in exchange for an everyday object of surrealism. The paintings of Magritte along with his contemporaries like Salvador Dali, often featured familiar, even mundane, subject matter including bowler hats, apples, clocks and bells. What makes their pieces striking, however, was the way they twisted our perception of these objects and created environments that could not exist within the physical bounds of our world. The dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish qualities of their paintings can be explained by their affinity for Freud and the psychoanalysis approach to psychology.

Found photos, divorced from their original context, take on a surreal quality; due to the subject matter that's unfamiliar to contemporary audiences or the composition of the image. When flipping through stacks of the usual family snapshots and mundane travel photos I look for the whimsical and absurd, or anything that shows the humor of the photographer.

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A well dressed gentleman with his pet cat, positioned so he's "walking" on two legs. The photo above and the one below are both stamped December 22, 1931 Omaha, Nebraska.

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Doesn't everyone don evening attire including a full length fur coat and heels to hike up a mountain?

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An Edwardian French real photo postcard featuring a dapper chap wishing you Bonne Fete (Happy Birthday). While it appears he's in a greenhouse or conservatory, he's actually in a studio in front of a painted backdrop.

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The original inspiration for today's "style rides", this gentleman proudly poses with his bicycle while dressed in a tie, jacket and pocket watch.


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A real photo postcard depicting a Chicago street scene, likely downtown based on the abundance of shops and restaurants. It can be dated to 1923 or earlier based on the old phone exchange, "Seeley 540". What I found unusual is that a telephone number would be advertised on the side of a horse-drawn cart, as I think of the technology co-existing with cars rather than horse-drawn vehicles.

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Stoic faces combined with whimsical costumes-- it's likely that this portrait depicts a group of traveling musicians. Even though the photo was shot in an indoor studio, there is a painted backdrop to suggest nature and even hay spread on the floor.

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The back of the cabinet card features writing in Swedish and illustrations of the "fathers" of photography including Daguerre and Talbot.
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Chicago's version of Coney Island, Riverview amusement park opened in 1904 and was sadly torn down in 1967.

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The two mass produced souvenir postcards from Riverview feature black and photos of "Hades", one of the park's attractions, and a crowd of people viewing a wedding performed on the Pair-O-Chutes. Both date to 1943.
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A local street photographer shot this image in 1973, it's titled "Tourisa" (tourist). The subject looks like she belongs on a beach, not on a dirty city sidewalk next to a trash can.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Found Photo Friday: The Rockaways

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Since the industrialization of America in the 19th century, generations of city dwellers have escaped the heat by heading to idyllic towns dotting the coasts. Initially only the wealthy classes could afford to own lakeside or oceanfront homes but by the turn of the century improved travel meant that the beach, the boardwalk and fresh air were only a short train ride away. On the East Coast, New Yorkers found refuge in the The Rockaways, a popular resort area located within the borough of Queens. Both inexpensive beachside bungalows and luxury hotels flourished in neighborhood such as Arverne until the 1950s and 1960s, when cheaper and more efficient air travel encouraged Americans to go farther afield for vacations.

The set of photos shared here today date from the late 1930s, just before the decline of the beachfront. Based on the written captions, I surmised that the same family visited Arverne every summer. On their own the snapshots evoke a sense of classic Americana charm, after researching the fate of Averne, however; I realize how the photos evoke a place that unfortunately was lost to abandonment and the bulldozers only a short ten years after this family's visit.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Found Photo Alliance

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Other people's memories can be purchased for as little as a quarter at antique shops, flea markets, and estate sales across the United States. I've been collecting "found photographs" for almost ten years, mainly in the form of vintage snapshots that date to the 1920s through the 1970s. Generally the photographs are shot by everyday people with amateur equipment with an eye for recording an event, moment, or object rather than an artistic composition. When digging through shoeboxes full of snapshots I look for certain subject matter including cats, examples of fashion/style/outfits, Chicago architecture and landmarks, photo booth photos, and arcade photos that feature a painted backdrop. I'm also fond of scrapbooks, yearbooks, and anything with a quirky handwritten caption. Found photos appeal to me because they're a glimpse into the lives of everyday people and they're small, affordable pieces of history.

Every week I'll be sharing my collection here for Found Photo Friday and on Instagram using the hashtag #foundphotoalliance. In the future there will also be interviews with fellow collectors, reviews of books featuring snapshots, and guest posts.

Today I'm sharing the album of Betty, a WWII sailor's sweetheart. I purchased the album a few months ago at a local flea market from an avid Chicago-area collector, Ron Slattery of Big Happy Funhouse. I was drawn to the anchor emblazoned album and the cheeky captions scrawled on the back of the photos by Betty.

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The photos in the album date to 1942 - 1944 and based on the captions they were sent from Betty in Chicago to her husband Bob.

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"I'm sticking my tongue out haha at Irene not you honey."

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"Taken in March 1944. Bob and Bets. This is the one and only picture I have of Bob and I together since we were kids".

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"This is me standing in front of the gas station you used to work at. Boy do I ever look tall there huh honey? I've got the blue shirt you sent me, how does it look? Sept 1943".

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"I've got Rose Marie's new fox fur coat on-- It makes me look like a bear huh?"

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"Here I am, all dressed up and no place to go-- darn! There's veiling over my head to keep from breaking my camera--any objections-- over ruled ha ha".

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"This was the clearest one of all. taken 4/11/43, Sunday at 5:30 PM on Michigan Ave. Sure wish you were on that bench with me, darling".

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"Betty the 2 week waitress at a closer view ugh! I've got my hair upswept and I don't like it-- Do you? This picture is too serious--Gosh. I didn't even recognize myself ugh!"

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"See that sign not bad eh? Kinda windy out today very windy in fact." Center: "I'm sitting on a wheelbarrow honey. I only wish I was as happy as I look when you come home darlin' I'll be happy again." Left: "I'm eating a banana here cause I got hungry. That's Michigan Blvd in the background honey."

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"July 3, 1943. How do you like my new white skirt and colored blouse? I haven't any stockings on either kid just leg makeup on-- looks real don't it?"

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"I've got the purse you sent me in my hand honey-- you like-- no!?"

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(Middle photo): "This is me honey believe it or not. The suns in my eyes, darn! I couldn't keep my eyes open! That's how I look tonite, dog tired!"Right: "This is me in Dad's car taken in Lisle, Illinois October, 1943".

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