Sunday, December 11, 2011


This month I asked a few collectors to share a favorite winter or holiday photo.  Below are some terrific selections.   Enjoy!

What I love about this image is twofold.  First I find the picture both terribly funny, but also eerily disquieting. It's not quite in focus, and there's a lovely blurred area right of center.  Tonally, the right hand side of the image and the figure of the little girl and the infant are more bleached out than the figures on the image's left hand side. The girl's face looms just a little too large, too close to the camera for comfort. 

It's essentially a domestic scene, but one that is suffused with violence.  Again, particularly unnerving is the pallid little girl with the crying (or yawning) baby.  Her face is a still, blank slate in an image that is otherwise filled with movement and tension.  Of course, the boys threatening the viewer and the dog with their toy guns are both funny but also (more than) a little sociopathic, especially the kid who holds the gun to the dog's muzzle.  One wants to ask: what kind of family is this?  And what kind of mayhem preceded the snapping of this image? 

I think this leads to the second thing that appeals to me about the image: it somehow perfectly sums up my ambivalent feelings towards the holiday season: I find myself looking forward to it and its early evening darkness, warm fires, friendship and companionship, but also terrorized in some sense by the frenzied tyranny of family, forced gaiety, and overwrought gift giving.  Underneath all the bonhomie, the forces of misrule, dysfunction and chaos are lurking, just waiting to emerge into the kind of weird anarchism evident in the image. The picture perfectly sums all that up, and also encapsulates my feelings about the "holiday season" in general--feelings which I realize, now, in writing this, to be more than a little misanthropic!

I saw the image originally on Ebay, bid on it, and lost.  Sometime later, either a dupe or the same image was offered again.   I snapped it up.  It's still a favorite.

Nigel Maister

I love the expressions of excitement, happiness and joy on their faces. The emotions capture the feeling of Christmas day that I felt with my siblings. Their tiger costumes are a whimsical touch that reinforces the family bond. As there are no opened presents in the photo, I assume the costumes were the first gifts opened. As viewers of this photo, we can share in the expectant delights of a very special day which is just starting to unfold.

David Rheingold
I hope you enjoy this photo! It's actually shot indoors, in a studio. All the snow has been carefully painted directly on the photo. I love fake snow! I once illustrated a book about fake snow, which came inside of a fake snowball -- you had to smash it to get the book.

You can see they are both with cigar...

Ian Phillips

Here's a Christmas/Snow snapshot I inserted into a snow globe from Goodwill.  I shake it up and look at the snow falling in the water with the snow in the snap behind.  Neither are real.  

Photo by John Nichols of Photo by Anonymous.
If you are like me, for a fraction of a second you thought this was pornography.

Our brains are full of trash. But it seems to me media must have put a lot of it there.

Happy holidays, and bon app├ętit!

Joel Rotenberg

My selection is a circa 1920 real photo postcard that I purchased a couple of years ago. The card was not mailed and there is no documentation on the back, so the identity of the trio is a mystery. However, I'm not sure if we need to know more, the image is evocative and touching all by itself.

Robert Young

Polaroid, c. 1970.  A color photograph about Christmas that is extraordinarily banal and cheerless.   
Barbara Levine

This photo is my all time favorite holiday related image, I love the subtlety of it. A million years ago, I thought of making my own line of Christmas photo greeting cards…

Sabine Ocker
This one is subtle, an ice storm, it feels like a painting to me.

John Foster

A simpler time.

Stacy Waldman

Me and Mrs. Claus in our younger days.
Santa Claus
North Pole

Sunday, November 27, 2011


There's a Henri Matisse saying "Il y a des fleurs partout pour qui veut bien les voir," which translates as "there are flowers everywhere for those who bother to look."  As an avid photographer and also as a collector of vernacular photographs, I'm always looking for fleeting, overlooked moments. Within these little miracles, I look for a sense of beauty or a an epiphany.

Unfortunately, the dust of everyday life blinds our sense to beautiful scenes. Matisse's soul was open to (thrived upon?)  these moments, and he had a great talent to paint these moments. Fortunately, these moments can be also be documented by amateur photographers.

Ironically, it could be argued that the amateur's snapshot may be more likely to echo Matisse's saying than an art photographer's work. The amateur's photo is a spontaneous, heartfelt snapshot while the artist has a more measured, filtered approach.

My selected photographs champion the unknown photographer who recorded a special moment. While we don't know the photographer, perhaps the viewer can share the feelings the photographer experienced.

The "Clothesline" photograph presents us with a gently sloping clothesline which is kissed by a gentle breeze. The diaphanous garments illuminated by strong sunlight suggest a warm summer environment yet the leaf-less trees reveal a much different story. What makes this such an outstanding example of "flowers everywhere" is that this elegant laundry line represents one of the most mundane chores we all suffer through. As a final note, there's the wonderful ability of the photograph to capture the invisible force of the wind,which leads us nicely into the next photograph.

In "Convertible" we have some information written on the back of the photograph--"Jeanne - rather wind blown - in front seat of car - taken while riding along Sunday May 4th on way home from Washington." We really don't need this information, however, as we are immediately immersed into the feeling of a convertible on a stunning day.  With just a simple snapshot of her blowing hair, we can all relate to the the youthful freedom of a road trip. The destination or purpose is not of importance. We just want to be part of a carefree moment that would perhaps be forgotten except for this photograph. 

 In "Tree Climbing" the photographer points the camera upwards (an unusual angle) at gently winding, leaf-covered branches. Amidst this canopy are a pair of legs poised for greater heights. A seemingly meaningless activity is actually one infused with a sense of exploration with a touch of risk, something we all experience on many levels throughout our lives.  

"Cripple Creek Post Office" makes the eyes dance. We initially view this as dilapidated front that's a hodgepodge of shapes and colors, including a few missing marble tiles revealing domino-like dots. On closer inspection, however, we see a coherent quilt appear out of the randomness. From nature's deterioration of the panels and the door, and the human touches of the signs and posters, we have a tapestry of romantic decay.

I finish with  "Pool" which has a classic snapshot feel. People relax by the pool with a grill smoking in the far right background. The photographer surveys the scene but drops the camera ever so slightly to capture the almost spiritual sunlight shining through the feet of people and then splashing onto the water. The three dimensional people and furniture became a contemplative two dimensional, abstract reflection. This photo reminds us to always look for reflective surfaces and savor their tableau they offer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


It's 1906 in Auburn, New York.

Herbert Phayre, an Indian-born photographer, had established his studio in Auburn 6 years earlier, when he arrived from Canada and instantly became a frequent advertiser in local newspapers. Business was good.

Willard Hoagland, a well-built 5'11" and 170 pound man, originally from Union Springs, New York, was already a known figure in the running track and sporting circles after starting his athletic career in 1879. Hoagland's interest in sports went as far as umpiring major league baseball games in 1894.

Hoagland, now a 44 year old who was known as the 'Champion Heel and Toe Walker of the World,' decided to make a few extra bucks.

Image marketing by selling souvenir photographs at a track meet was not something new, as it had already paid dividends to other athletes.  So why not test the market by working out a deal with Phayre's studio, the most prominent photographer in the city?

Hoagland visited Phayre and agreed on a package of 1,100 photographs at 2 cent each.

Below is the finished product and main object of the commercial dispute that followed the photo shoot.

By April of 1906, Phayre had obtained a judgment against the athlete in the amount of $26.60 (about $665 today) after Hoagland decided to 'walk away' from paying the photographer.

It comes as no surprise that local newspapers began to cover the news. Auburn had a population of about 30,000 by that year, so a legal feud between two of it's prominent citizens had to be the talk of the town.

Hoagland declared that he offered to do the 'square thing' with the photographer and pay for all the photographs that had been sold and return the rest to Phayre, even though the original agreement (according to him) was that the photographs were not to be paid for until completely sold.

A little more than 100 years have passed since the incident and it is not known how the dispute was resolved.

Phayre kept doing business as usual until his death in 1938. His business didn't become a casualty of the Great Depression and he even survived a 1931 fire that consumed his studio and nearly took his life. He lived for 68 years.

Hoagland put away his walking paraphernalia in 1912. After his retirement from the tracks, Hoagland served as a constable of the city of Auburn and even as Deputy Sheriff. He went on to be NY State's Game Protector for more than 20 years. He died in 1936 at the age of 74.

Both Phayre and Hoagland rest in Auburn's Fort Hill Cemetery just a couple of yards away from each other.

This guest blogger ended up buying one of Hoagland's photographs for exactly 1000 times the original price agreed by both him and Phayre back in 1906.

They must be laughing right now.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

WOW! BOY IN A DRESS - Part II by Pat Street

In an earlier post, I suggested ways to determine the gender of children in nineteenth-century photos by examining the hair style.  Another useful indicator of gender is clothing.* Almost all of the examples shown below are of boys, because it's very common for boys to be misidentified as girls, and quite rare for girls to be misidentified as boys.

1.  TROUSERS  Throughout the nineteenth century, no matter how fancy the outfit or how long the hair, if a child is wearing trousers of any kind, it's a boy. Girls were never seen in pants or trousers, whether long pants, below-knee pants, knee pants, or above-knee pants. The girliest-looking child, if wearing pants,  is a boy.

2.  BOW AT NECK  If the child has a bow at the neck of any size, it's likely to be a boy.

3.  COLLAR  If the child has a big fancy ruffled cloth collar, usually with cuffs and a bow at the neck as well, it's almost certain to be a boy. 

Girls wore fancy collars too, but girls' collars are generally in the "Bertha" style (large round lace or crocheted collars).  Boys occasionally wore this style of collar too, but it was mostly a girls' style. These are girls.

4.  SAILOR SUIT  In mid-century, when European royalty began dressing the royal children in little military uniforms of the realm, sailor suits (or dresses with rows of braid or other sailor styling) became very popular for both boys and girls. Girls wore the middy top with a skirt, and so did many little boys.  (Boy, boy; boy, girl)

5.  LORD FAUNTLEROY SUIT  In the mid-1880s, mothers began to dress their boys in the style of Little Lord Fauntleroy, a character in a children’s book. A Fauntleroy suit consisted of a jacket and skirt (or short pants) made of a luxurious fabric like velvet, worn with a full white blouse with enormous, elaborate, ruffled or lacy collar and cuffs. Girls did not wear this style.

6.  DRESS  All babies wore similar dresses, and it's really hard to determine gender if the child doesn't have enough hair to be styled. Sometimes it's best to go with body language. I think this child is a boy, but maybe it's a girl.

Dresses for children up to age five or so were pretty much unisex. This is a little boy from the 1860s named Eugene. Hair style is a better indicator for young children than dress style.

These are all boys.

And these are all boys, too. Some boys as old as ten or eleven wore dresses.

7.  SUIT WITH JACKET  If the child is wearing a suit, i.e., matching jacket and skirt or pants, it's probably going to be a boy. A girl would generally wear a dress rather than a suit.

8.  JEWELRY  The presence of jewelry won't usually help you decide whether a child is male or female. These children are all boys. The first boy is in playclothes, and his beads may be wooden beads he has strung on a shoelace, but the other boys are dressed in their best clothes. The boy on the right is wearing stud earrings, and the twin boys below are wearing small hoop earrings. (It was thought that pierced-ear earrings would improve a child's eyesight. This old wives' tale is also why pirates wore gold hoops in their ears.) 

If you have a photograph for which you still can't decide gender after considering hair style and clothing, you may need to factor in the props, if any, and the pose.  I'll address those elements next time.


* I've developed these guidelines (and I've seen exceptions to almost all of them) from studying thousands of early photographs of children. If you think I'm off base, please let me know!  

To see Wow! Boy in a Dress, Part I, click here. 
Click here for more on Pat Street and other guest bloggers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


While drinking and driving don't mix, alcohol and cameras are a heady cocktail. Intoxicated people, especially normally reserved people, love the stages parties provide. People act like C-list celebrities desperate for paparazzi flash glare. Amateur photographers actually have quite an easy job as blurry or off center photographs just lend to the feeling of a party!

I love "On the Dock" as this is during Prohibition. A young woman tilts up a bottle while there's a subtle hike of her dress with a hand holding a cigarette. There's a strong sense that she's intoxicated, but there's also the hint of much more to come. Along these lines, there's also "Beer Can."

At some parties, not only do the social veneers come off. The clothes can come off, too. ("Umbrella" and "Belly Pinch".)

As the party goes on, there's a sense of delirium, and amateur photographers are quite adept at these shots. ("Flowers" and "Four Drunks".)

The key is to have a photographer who can outlast most party victims so that the final gasps of the party can be documented!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


In this post 9/11 world of vampire books, zombies, the TV show True Blood, and the goth fashion scene it is not surprising that Halloween is probably America’s favorite holiday. Thus we respond to photos of old costumes and all of the rites and rituals associated with the scariest night of the year. It takes us back to our own childhood and the crazy getups we wore with such pride.  This blog entry brings together some of the participants’ favorite Halloween photos which are sure to scare you, make you laugh, and perhaps give you a slight shudder.  But no tricks here, just photo treats for the viewing.   Enjoy!

This Halloween image grabbed me the moment I saw it. And, no, it's not about the brown shoes clashing with the black outfit.  A fretful monologue begins in my mind as I find myself posing for the shot. I’m trapped in this stinking costume for the next two hours.  The pre-formed mask reeks of glue and paint.  I feel it’s canvas scratchiness grating my nose and I’m praying that I don’t have to go to the bathroom anytime soon.  My breath is beginning to condense on the inside of the mask because there is no mouth hole.  What fun can I have because even my friends won’t be able to recognize me?  Who’s going to give me candy?  No one.  I’m too terrifying.  Sheer panic grips me as I realize that in my blackness, I’m going to be the perfect target for older kids to hit me with eggs and flour-filled socks.  Mommy, I’m scared!  Please don’t send me out there!!!

Mark Rotenberg
For more on Mark Rotenberg, click here. 

If you've ever put on a dyed plastic body suit over your clothing you know it's not the most comfortable way to go for a walk. That's why it's impossible to forget the many times I dressed in one of those awful plastic costumes for Halloween. One year, my mother bought me a Luke Skywalker suit and a plastic mask so I could go trick or treating. I recall the sweat forming around my cheeks and under my nose. Other kids had better costumes made of actual fabric but I was just happy to collect a bucket worth of free candy. I love Halloween more than any other holiday and at times I wish I could still go trick or treating. On Halloween one could be wicked, heroic, an alien, a princess or whatever your imagination could conjure up. When I look at this photo I am immediately taken back to that happy time when I could hardly breath under my plastic Luke Skywalker mask.

Albert Tanquero
For more on Albert Tanquero, click here. 
While Halloween is all about the costume, often the scariest element is the jack o’lantern which sits on a porch or glows through the darkened window of a house.  I love the simplicity of this scene and how the light of the candle in the pumpkin softly illuminates the girl’s face.  Plus snapshots taken at night are extremely rare, which is another reason for this photo’s appeal.  Now if she only could have had a mask on herself.......

Robert E. Jackson
For more on Robert E. Jackson, click here. 

Halloween isn't so important in Turkey; the Ramazan holiday is the time when children go from door to door asking for candy. Dressing up is popular of course and like all the best dress up photos, here you might think you know what's going on but you could be very wrong.

My blog, One Man's Treasure, is where I post photographs from my collection. 

John Toohey
For more on John Toohey, click here. 

Funny how a mask changes everything, and makes the scene way more sinister.  For me, it is because we can’t see their eyes.  I love how they arranged themselves in this photo.  Five girls, their names on the verso, three with their surname.  Sisters? Cousins?  Someone stands at the window watching the proceedings.

Janet West
For more on Janet West, click here. 

When I was a child, Halloween was fun, never scary. We dressed up as princesses, gypsies, pirates, witches, clowns, or ballerinas and our parents would take us to visit the neighbors on our dirt road -- Mrs. Ward, the Andersons, the Wolffs, Granny Kelly, and the Bennetts. All the kids would admire each other's costumes, and we would be given candy, drink apple cider, and sometimes even bob for apples. Horror didn't enter into the occasion at all. It looks as if this boy and his dog had the same sweet kind of Halloween in their neighborhood: all treat, no tricks.  No doubt his mom made his costume (and the dog's) -- as our mom always made ours -- and lent him an old parasol. Mothers don't get enough credit.

Pat Street
For more on Pat Street, click here. 

There is a lot more to this small Halloween snapshot than first meets the eye. It captures a group of children before they don their homemade masks and transform into the ghoulish and slightly disturbing characters that are to be found in the photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Diane Arbus. 
They have been distracted by something off camera and all bar one look away from the photographer – towards what we will never know! One side of the image is dark and contrasts with a ghostly flare of light hovering over the photographer’s shadow. 

I don’t know exactly where this photograph was taken as the only information on the reverse is a penciled month and year – October 1946. To my eyes, the children look very American in their dungarees, striped tops and t-shirts which differ markedly from the clothing worn by their European equivalents at the time.

Orla Fitzpatrick
For more on Orla Fitzpatrick, click here. 

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, if its a real holiday, and my wife Linda enjoys the season too.  We have a big collection of vintage Halloween items and decorate the house most of the month of September. We have dozens of snapshots of kids and adults in costume and at parties.  This was tough decision indeed!  I chose this one as it could be any or all of us, but you will have to guess which is me!  I'm not telling!!!!

Glenn Vogel

You can find Glenn set up at various shows on the east coast.

While I own hundreds of them now, it's one of the first Pocket Kodak images I ever bought.  I love the weird shadow, that it's crooked, and that the mask is shaded, making it even creepier. It's seemingly an old man mask, complete with glasses and whiskers, yet here we have the little boy in his sailor suit.  I like photos with some kind of juxtaposition.

Erin Waters
For more on Erin Waters, click here. 


I love this circa late 1950's Halloween still life photo because it envokes the spirit without any kids wearing scary masks. It's a lovely composition, and the nose of the pumpkin transforms the image from sublime to silly. Wouldn't you want to go trick -or- treating at this house?

Sabine Ocker