In this new century, we have become a visual world, and practically everyone now has a camera of some sort, and just about every aspect of life gets shot - including many that probably shouldn't. Superstar photog Joe McNally once wrote, "Face it: every day, there are about 30 million billion digital pictures being taken. How do you make yours stand out?"* That, as I've already written, is the challenge.
But it wasn't always so. Once upon a time, cameras were large, bulky, and the singular realm of the professional. Then came Kodak and the Brownie, and suddenly the ability to record everyday life happening around you became possible to the amateur. The age of the snapshot was born. Dig through a pile of antique photos sometime, and you'll start to see a clear demarkation in time, separating the age of pro-only shooting (hallmarked by tin-types and a little later, by "cabinet photos") of the late 1800s/early 1900s and the snapshots of the 1920s and 1930s.
Pro photographers of that era, more often than not staged their images. Amateurs, on the other hand, captured unrehearsed moments in reality and time. What shines through so many times, though, is a profound sense of the character in the people imaged. Maybe it's just our perception, maybe it was because of the harsher times that they lived through, or maybe it was the honesty of the early snapshots, before people realized they could fool everyone and fake looking good. What ever it was, take a good, long look at these images and you'll start to see something remarkable. It is the character ingrained on their faces, chiseled there by the life they led, by life itself being fundamentally harder than it is today.
|The California license plates say 1930. Dad - a milkman? - has|
just come home from work, interrupting a game of baseball
played by his young sons. And how about that rumble seat?
An interesting mental effect from this falsely monochromatic view of their world is the thought that somehow what they experienced is somehow less real than what we do. If anything, it was more so. Without our ultra-advanced climate control, summers were hotter, winters were colder. Sanitation and hygiene were different then, and thus were the everyday odors. But none of that comes through in a photo. And we conveniently forget about it, too.
|A summer afternoon's visit to Grandma and Grandpa in Dad's new car?|
*From Joe McNally's The Hotshoe Diaries, an amazing book which should be required reading for anyone who picks up a speedlight and slaps it on a camera.