I started collecting old snapshots after spending hours sifting through an immense warehouse of junk that we regulars affectionately called “Sid’s on Driggs”, a space now occupied by a yipster grocery store and luxury apartments. I learned when they were asked to pick up the remains of loved one’s estate (ie. the unwanted contents of an apartment or house), it typically meant everything. Sid chose to leave the boxes of family albums and generations of photos out for people to buy along with furniture, clothes, knick-knacks, linens, housewares, etc. I loved it. Loved the surprises and discoveries of so much ephemera.
The photos were instantly compelling. I’d spend hours obsessively going through them, getting very drawn into the narratives they suggested, selecting those I liked based on various criteria, subjective, aesthetic, social, etc. They were so cheap, I couldn’t help myself, and sometimes I wanted to preserve the integrity of what could be 3 generations of family snapshots, so I got a lot. Over the years I found other junk shops with photos, but some were priced as precious. Luckily I found another place with a similar penchant (more like a willingness, I’d suspect) for taking in entire estates, The Thing, which opened in my neighborhood right about the time Sid’s closed. At first, I began collecting old stationary and greeting cards from the later, until I realized they had flat files in the back stuffed with old pics. The Thing then became my haunt, and I’d sit in a corner of the dirty store on the floor, slavishly going through drawer after drawer, flipping through thousands of images. I got many gems from both places, photos dating back to the early 20th century, polaroids of every format, pics printed on scalloped paper or in stereo formats, taken on all kinds of cameras: the variety was endless and enthralling!
Obvious categories emerged – birthdays, vacations, holidays, pets and kids, etc. – but I learned things too like it was weirdly common for guys in the 1920s-1940s to form pyramids or other formal shapes for group portraits (mimicking sports, I guess?). And people love posing with their cars. I’ve got photos from the 1950s of an old pet cemetery, images of WWII soldiers (including Nazis), amateur porn, representations across class and race as well as subjects and formats.
Anyway, a while back an intern of mine scanned some of the pics from my collection, a mere fraction of what I have, and I just came across the file, so thought I’d share here. The resolution is low, but they’re still great to look at. Of course, “vernacular photography” has now become a mega market with serious collectors (including famous photographers and museums) such that I don’t even bother to look anymore. I have so many as it is, and really need to spend time archiving rather than adding to the collection. Last summer a dealer rather greedily offered to buy them off me when he realized what I had, and I visibly recoiled at the suggestion. I’ve always felt rather protective of these images, which I think of as my orphans. I’ve shared them with very few people, so this is a big deal. Remember these photographs represent real people’s lives, and represent a time when personal photos were just that, PERSONAL. Yes, they also represent a history of technology, shifts in cultural and social mores, and a relationship to photos that you couldn’t entirely control. There are many “mistakes” and unintentionally interesting images in my collection, for example, that in today’s digital world would’ve been deleted, gone. Anyway, ENJOY respectfully, and please don’t disseminate without permission of acknowledgement, thank you!