Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Every Picture Tells A Story

I had never heard the term
"vernacular photography"
until I picked up
a magazine article this week.

Vernacular photography
refers to the creation of
photographs by amateur
or unknown photographers
who take pictures of every day life
and common subjects.

It is sad that many of these include
family photos that have been discarded.

Most end up in albums and boxes
that end up at garage sales
or flea markets
and then become images
of unknown people, places, and

Once unearthed,
it's up to the new owners to
supply a story behind the pictures.

John and Teenah Foster of St. Louis
have spent several years
searching flea markets, estate sales,
basements and attics
for what they consider vernacular art.

"Ninety-nine percent of what we find
is kind of boring, " states John,
"But once in awhile we get lucky
and stumble onto greatness.
That's what keeps us searching
through all those dusty boxes."

They are writing a book titled
"Accidental Mysteries"
that showcase their finds.

It is strange to think that
something as simple as a photograph
can communicate emotions
long after it has been taken.

Another collector-
(or "savior") of old photos-
Deanna Dahlsad-
says that:

"We often do not think of ourselves as ‘collecting’; rather, we are rescuing these ‘discards’ from “uncaring hands”.

We not only claim what others forfeit; we adopt. These people we don’t know become our brethren, our clan; they are our kindred, if only in spirit. But we have seen them now, and these people become ‘ours’. Their faces are known, if their fates are not."

I have a black and white photograph
of a Victorian bride
hanging in my bedroom.
I bought it at Goodwill for $2.
The frame is ornate
and it is developed on platinum paper.

I don't know this woman,
but I do know that she had to be
very happy at the moment that
the picture was snapped.
I try to imagine the wedding party
and what the groom looked like
and if her relatives
wonder where the photograph went to.

I adopted it.
But I'd love to be able
to return it to the family-
if only there was some
way to determine who they are.

take special care of your photos.
Label them,
preserve them-
write their story.
And don't carelessly discard them.

I hope mine are never pulled from a
dumpster somewhere.

But if they are,
I hope some caring person adopts them
and tells wonderful, colorful,
fanciful stories
about who I was.