I'd be interested in knowing why people collect vernacular photography or why they're really interested in it even as just a viewer. I know I go back to just always loving photographs.

I guess I can trace my love for photos back to childhood since we always had Life and Look in the house. They were the magazine staples along with National Geographic, which my mother subscribed to since the late 1930s. As I recall, back then, you had to be invited to get a subscription to the National Geographic, and somewhere in D.C. my mother's name is supposed to be on some list at the National Geographic headquarters. I have kept her subscription going long after her passing, so the subscription has been continuous for at least 70 years.

My father always was interested in cameras and taking photos. As a Naval aviator he'd trained to take reconnaissance shots and has some incredible stories to tell of the stunts he pulled while in training flying low over peoples homes. I wish I had some of the shots he took on some of his low flying escapades around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the 1940s. In the 1950s he worked for several years at the Naval Photographic Center making training films all over the country.

At an early age I'd already made up my mind I was going to be an artist. At one point I wanted to go to the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, but ended up at a Bay Area art college. I had my own darkroom where I'd spend easily 12 to 14 hours developing film and making prints. Can't say I miss the smell of the chemicals. I also don't know what happened to all of the prints I made. The majority of them and the negatives are long gone. I'd especially like to find the one of Mick with a fern up his nose, but that's a whole weird story not worth telling.

I think the first books I bought that contained what would be considered vernacular photography were part of the Time/Life series This Fabulous Century. I still love looking through them, each full of photos by unknown photographers and lots of ephemera. I never imagined I'd someday be searching through flea markets and estate sales for these same sort of items. I always imagined photographs and ephemera would be out of my reach. Instead they're really the art for the common people. You don't have to be wealthy to collect ephemera or vernacular photography. You buy what you find that speaks to you and is affordable to your pocket. My pocket is pretty barren so I go with quarters in hand hoping for finds.

The snapshot of the little boy below is one such find. It probably cost me less than a quarter. It falls into the vernacular photography category of looming shadows. Some people collect nothing but these sort of shots. They almost always look foreboding and mysterious. Of course it's generally the photographer whose shadow is butting in from the bottom trim so the subject is in no danger. But often times the subject is squinting or making some sort of uncomfortable looking expression. The reason for the expression is simple, they're being forced to look into the sun. Adults can usually pull off a smile, but children often just look confused and somewhat frightened adding to the drama that actually isn't there. We as viewers of the snapshot bring the drama. I think that's part of my love of vernacular photography. The love of storytelling.

boy in a tree_tatteredandlost
Click on image to see it larger.

I have to wonder if people who aren't interested in stories fall in love with vernacular photography. I generally find the people who have no interest in my collection are people whose imaginations stop short of going beyond the physical print in their hand. They look at it and say, "Yeah, it's an old snapshot of somebody you don't know. So?" That's when I know it's probably not worth going any further. If they don't look at a photo and come up with a story in their head that tries to explain what they're seeing then I know they're only seeing a piece of old paper.

So if anyone else wants to post a comment as to why they started collecting or even why they just love looking at old photographs please consider sharing.

And yes, as you can see I'm back online. I'm still stuck in bandwidth hell, but have plenty of upload usage available. It's the download usage that is a problem for now. So my daily cruising the net to read my favorite blogs is still curtailed for at least another week or two in order to save enough bandwidth for work from clients. I'm still going through withdrawal. It's a different withdrawal than I get when I go on vacation because I'm still sitting at this confounded machine all day, it's just now I'm restricted in visiting the rest of the world. I like visiting the rest of the world from my chair. It's all storytelling.


  1. I see people "on a grassy knoll".

    I love history, from that comes so much it's hard to put into words.

    Historical photo = a thousand words, you just have to stop and look to read them.

  2. Yes, yes...the grassy knoll. Doesn't that make it even more interesting?

    I agree, history is part of it. Time travel through photos. Touching history.

  3. WT's nephew just graduated from the Brooks Institute.