More scans from my Dad’s album. This time 1962–1975—covering his high school and college years. It appears that my grandparents switched to color film at this point and stopped shooting 116/616. Though the continued square photos suggest that they may have kept the Hawkeye around even after switching to a 35mm camera. Or they may have also kept an Instamatic around instead.
Category Archives: ephemera
Scans from my dad’s album. These aren’t as interesting photos as the ones from my mom’s side of the family since it’s posed group shots rather than candid photos. But it’s still fun to see this side of my relatives. These are mostly taken in and around San Francisco and Oakland. Earliest photos are before 1950. Latest in this post are 1961. Most though are from 1950–1960.
It’s also worth nothing that the square photos appear to have been taken using my Brownie Hawkeye Flash. Most of the earlier rectangular ones I think were taken with 116 or 616 film.
Part 1: Autograph Hunting
Between the ages of 10 and 16, I was an avid collector of baseball autographs. Since I was a kid without money, this meant I was actually getting the autographs from the players: doing my homework to know who might be where, being adequately prepared with the correct baseball card,* always carrying a spare ball,** learning how to recognize players without relying on the uniform, drumming up the courage to approach and ask them.
*I was good at this. Whether it was having a Mike Sadek card handy for the free Giants’ clinic at the local park, a Mario Mendoza card for when the minor league team he was managing came through San José, or a Mike Caldwell card for when his Campbell Fighting Camels got assigned to the Stanford Regional.
**Important. I obviously specialized in the more obscure players. But having a ball in case I had an opportunity for a genuine star allowed me to not waste a ton of money on pipe dreams. Buying a Billy Williams, Vida Blue, or Gaylord Perry baseball card was not something I could afford as a just-in-case purchase.
When I was 10, autograph hunting was all about the thrill of just getting anyone to sign. But that quickly changed. I was lucky enough to get to stay at the Giants’ hotel in Philadelphia when they were also staying there for a series against the Phillies. On my first day there, I tentatively approached Donell Nixon and got him to sign a card for me. He did. I was thrilled. By the next day, I knew what I was doing and had become fixated on the reward. And on “completing” the set. Which meant that I was getting more and more upset each time I didn’t “get” a player.
I got a good talking to from my mom that day about greed and appreciating what I had versus fixating on what I didn’t.
Still, autograph hunting was about the thing—getting that signature and having something to show that I saw or met the player. If I didn’t get the signature, the experience never happened. It wasn’t until I started going to baseball card shows that I started to realize there was more to it.
As I got older, I became able to buy autographs—both already-signed items and paid appearances at card shows. Both felt wrong to me. Already-signed items were troublesome because there was no experience there. Something I’d acquired myself just felt more important even if the player wasn’t. I knew how much I’d worked to get the autographs and I started to value the experience and effort I put into it.
At first my objections to the already-signed items was a sense that buying the finished item was cheating. But the card shows showed me there was more to it. Paying for autographs at the card show also felt a little like cheating—though getting to the show and waiting in line were pretty similar to the travel and wait aspects of the rest of my hunting. But it was also just a lousy experience. After all the wait, you’d hand your item to a guy at a desk, he’d sign it, and give it back to you. All without looking up.
When I got his autograph, rather than the usual baseball card, I brought a Tacoma Tigers program which had him on the cover. Since the show was in the Bay Area, he wasn’t expecting anyone to have this and he got a bit excited when he saw it. It was a nice change of pace and drilled home for me how much I valued the interaction and experience as much as the final product.
When I look back on my autograph hunting days or flip through my collection of autographed cards, it’s often the experiences and stories which I treasure. I love talking about meeting Will Clark and how he hated signing for non-Giants fans. I love telling the story about failing to get Willie Mays’s signature because the crowd jostled him and he stopped signing halfway through his name so some poor guy out there has a ball which just says “Willie.” I love the story of Todd Benzinger’s daughter asking from inside the car, “What is daddy dooning?” while he signed for everyone. I loved waiting for Bob Brenly outside the press elevator at Candlestick with our “Bach, Beethoven, Bob Brenly” tshirts.* I loved the Stanford Baseball Alumni game which used to signal the beginning of summer in January. I loved getting Mike Caldwell’s signature while his players crowded around to get a look at his baseball card.
*My mom made them. And sent him one. We were fans of him from his Giants days even though he was a Cubs announcer at the time. Yes I also got Steve Stone’s autograph.
Part 2: Photography
When I started out in photography, I found it easy to become obsessed with the final product and frustrated when that product never matched what I saw in my mind. In many ways seeing something that should make a good photo but being unable to put it all together is still the most difficult experience I have when photographing. There’s always some detail I missed or something I’d prefer to have done differently or something which I saw originally just goes missing.
Similarly, I’ve missed more photos than I can count because I couldn’t pull the trigger in time. This isn’t just about bad timing. I’ve found myself so caught up in watching what’s going on that I won’t even have my camera out and ready to take the photo.
This was especially common when I was birding. I could easily just watch a bird hunt for fish or fly by without ever bringing my camera to my eye. Even though I was out,with a camera, specifically to take photos. Some of this could be excused as watching and getting a sense of behavior so I could take better photos later. But most of it was just getting caught up in the act of seeing.
With my family, it’s the same thing. I’ll see moments and instances which I wish I could capture, but I’m just not able to do so. And this is despite me looking out for moments I consider to be more interesting.
I’m not complaining though. I’ve long since arrived at the conclusion that as much as I enjoy taking a good photo, it’s the everything else which encompasses photography which I actually enjoy. Photography for me has become going for a walk or drive* and just having my eye turned on and my brain assessing what works and what doesn’t. It’s an exercise in active seeing and the resulting images are my feedback.
*Or train ride.
I also like to try things without knowing what the results will be. Sometimes this is gimmicky, but the willingness to cede control adds a lot of the fun back into the result. I can play around and then the result becomes a “what happened this time?” surprise rather than a “did it work out?” disappointment.
Do I get a nice high from making a particularly good image or taking a photo which matches my conception of what it should look like? Absolutely. But it’s the looking and seeing and noticing and playing which makes me continue to shoot. And it’s the process of seeing and playing which I remember when I look through my images.
Part 3: Memory
Sometimes, I’ve noticed with horror that the memories I have of things like my daughter’s birthday parties or the trips we’ve taken together are actually memories of the photographs I took, not of the events themselves, and together, the two somehow become ever more worn and overwrought, like lines gone over too many times in a drawing.
My earliest memories are from when I was two years old. One of them is of my sister being born. The other is of my uncle’s wedding. In both cases, my memories have nothing to do with the actual events.
With my sister, my memories concern the construction around the hospital which we drove through on the way to visit. I have explicit memories of looking through the window of the car at all the diggers and bulldozers. My parents have confirmed over the years, repeatedly, that these memories are related to my sister’s birth.
With my uncle, my memory is holding onto my dad’s neck as he took me through the hotel swimming pool. What a pool it was. It wound around the hotel, went under walkways, and had a restaurant in the middle of it. Years later, my parents recognized my description of the pool as belonging to the hotel where the wedding was. I’d have had no idea otherwise.
There’s no way I would have been able to hold on to those memories without having something specific to pin them to. The result is not really my memory of the event anymore. Instead it’s my memory of being told what my memory was of that I remember and which anchors the earlier fragment in my mind.
This anchoring of my memory with something specific is how photography works for me. And it’s how autograph hunting worked back before I stated photography.* The activity helps me focus on certain experiences and the resulting objects serve to remind me of the experience. Do the objects and memories kind of blend together? Absolutely. That’s pretty much the point.
*Also, baseball-wise, why I keep score at baseball games. It’s not about reliving the game afterwards, it’s to help me focus during the event.
Which is why I’ve been amused about the recent hoopla about the Taking Photos Hurts Memory study. It’s pretty clear in the abstract that the only kind of photography which hurts memory is rote documentation without thought. Focused, observational photography improves it. As it should. You’re engaged in seeing and looking for specific details that make you think. Of course your memory will improve.
Part 4: Means vs Ends
The way to understand photography as it happens on social platforms is not to compare it to traditional photography, which is about creating an art object, but instead as a communicating of experience itself. It’s less making media and more sharing eyes; your view, your experience in the now. The atomizing of the ephemeral flow of lived reality into transmittable objects is the ends of the traditional photograph, but merely the means of the social snap.
I’ve never really understood Snapchat. Well, I get it. In the sense that we experience our lives through the viewfinder, it makes sense that we’ll communicate more visually as a result. I just never imagined that I would be communicating this way. It’s just not how I see the world. I forget the viewfinder half the time.
Then my mother-in-law got a smartphone.
For the past couple months now, there’s been what’s effectively an MMS chatroom consisting of my wife’s family plus me and my concuñado.* Lots of text. Lots of photos. We’re all just talking to each other and keeping up to date as a family.
*Is there an English word for my sister-in-law’s husband (aka my wife’s brother-in-law)? If not, why not?
I’m finding that most of my messages are photo-based. Without comment. Send them out and they become part of the conversation. Not something to discuss. Nothing final. Just a statement the same as texting “just landed” or “it’s snowing!” I’m even taking and sending selfies* now.
*E.g. on Halloween.
Now I understand what Nathan Jurgenson is talking about. And I understand the appeal and use case for Snapchat.
What’s both interesting and confusing here is that photographs can be both the means and the ends of communication. Traditionally, photos are presented as the end product. In Snapchat, or in my family MMS chatroom, they’re the means. At the same time, some of the photos I send eventually become blogposts and things which I consider to be somewhat final. They stop being conversation and instead a record of the event. Same photo, different framing.
Which is why Jurgenson’s focus on framing is so correct. The same image can be presented in multiple ways and as a result, suggest vastly different uses. I tend to view the framing as a Donald Norman style affordance. If I’m in an app which is conversation-based,* I will use images as conversation. If I’m in an app which is post-based,** the images become posts to comment on.***
*I use MMS, private Tumblrs, and IRC for this kind of communication.
**Facebook, Tumblr, and Flickr in my case.
***Twitter is kind of a grey area here. It’s a bit conversational. But it’s also very post-based. And I’m realizing that my usage is all over the map. All of which is probably why I like Twitter the most.
I’ve referenced McLuhan before here when talking about how the context in which I encounter a photograph changes the way I react to it. I should have realized a lot sooner that the same dynamic is at play with how use my own photos.
For someone like me who has a tendency to remember or enjoy the process more than the end result, it’s especially exciting to realize how my process can actually be my end product. I’ve been structuring posts around tweets for a while, but this is something else.
My twitter-based posts are typically straight archives of conversations on twitter which I use as a jumping off point for something else. Twitter makes me think about things and want to respond in more than 140 characters. So I blog.
When I take photos which I’ve been messaging to my family and turn them into blogposts, I’m not presenting an archive but am instead drawing on my experience while shooting and presenting what I feel represents that experience best. I’m not responding to the previous conversation, instead I’m incorporating it into the larger experience.
That I use my process as my end product, and that I value my process so much, also explains why I’m not likely to ever get into Snapchat itself. I’m a bit of a hoarder in the digital realm the same way I am in the physical one. I like all the bits of ephemera—and memories which are anchored to them. I like being able to roll back the chat archives and see what we’ve talked about in the past.* And I know that even in what seems to be an ephemeral medium, that it’s completely possible to record messages.
*As much as I enjoy IRC, this is my main problem with it too. I do however save my AIM chat logs.
Heck, if anything, now that I’ve realized how conversational photos are part of the way I react to and think about my experiences, I want to be able to go back and see what I was thinking even more than I did before.
One of the finds from the Hawai‘i photo stash was the photo/card sleeve from my grandmother’s wallet. Interesting to see what she kept on her. It doesn’t look like she threw anything out since the baby photos of my mom and uncle look like they’ve been there for decades. Plus she kept all her identification from World War 2.
A second batch of scans from Hawai‘i. The first batch was pre-marriage and pre-kids. This batch is random family photos from the 1950s through around 1970. These photos correspond to the stories which my mom tells about her childhood. These are various film formats—some 6×6, some 135, some 4×4 (I think). As before, it’s a bit odd how everything is scaled to fit the same size online.
I’m also including two other previous scans from the same time period
Part of the family vacation component of my Hawai‘i trip was to come back with a pile of photos to scan. A lot of them are extended family so I have to do some work to identify who they are. The first batch I’ve been scanning has been photos of my grandparents. Mostly of my grandmother. Mostly taken before my mom was born.
So we’re talking around early 1940s for most of these. The non-studio photos all appear contact prints from 120 or 620 film (~2.25 inches wide).
The studio photos are interesting since they’re much more like the kinds of photos I would see on people’s walls during my childhood visits. Professional photos were framed, everything else went in albums.
And a couple notes on scanning. It’s a tough decision between trying to correct the color and contrast of the aged print and maintaining the sense that these are old, faded, and beat up items. I hope I’ve found the right balance here. Also, it’s very strange to see all of these scaled to exactly the same 500-pixel widths. In person, the prints are all slightly different sizes. Scanning everything results in a forced uniformity which loses some of the character of the artifacts.
This is prompted by a post and subsequent discussion on 1/125 about the persistent ignorance by photographers of photographic history.
We’re constantly seeing news stories, blog posts, etc. bemoaning how photography has changed “in the digital age.” There are debates about whether Photoshop post-processing or in-camera Hipstamatic-style filters are somehow cheating or lying or not photography. And, as in the 1/125 post, there are existential questions about what it means to be a photographer when anyone or everyone can be a photographer.
What I find interesting is that none of the questions are new but there’s an assumption by many people that something is different now. Maybe the context is different now. Maybe we’ve reached a tipping point where the same old questions have different answers than they used to.
I believe that there is indeed something different happening now but that people are asking the wrong questions. It’s very easy to ask the same old questions because those questions have been around forever.
In photography, the digital revolution is not a technological revolution. It is a social one. Photography’s history is marked by the constant democratization of access to the medium and a parallel dialog about what it means to actually be a photographer (artistically and/or professionally). Digital photography drastically increased the conversion rate of people into photographers. The revolution however is one of ignorance and innocence as the parallel dialog has come to be dominated by people who do not understand the past.
The questions now should have more to do with the consumption of photography, not the creation of it.
Now that anyone can publish, how do we know whether what we’re looking at is worth looking at? It’s fine for me to determine my own criteria, but I can’t expect the general populace to have the same level of awareness and knowledge. Who should be people’s photography guide in an age of internet experts and easy opinions?
How do I hire a professional photographer when I can no longer rely on the equipment to serve as a proxy for technical competence? 100 years ago, baby photos such as the one of my grandfather at the top of this post were made by professional photographers who operated a camera and created family photos. 50 years ago, most baby photos were taken by cheap bakelite cameras but professional photographers still existed for formal posed photos. Now, amateur equipment is identical to professional equipment* and it’s completely expected that the general public no longer knows what to expect from a professional.
*This brings up a side observation which I haven’t seen mentioned at all. While photography is distinguished by the increase in access to the tools of creation, it’s also distinguished by the gradual amateurization of professional equipment.
Our problem as photographers is that we’re focusing on the wrong questions. We’re still worried about distinguishing ourselves. What we should be concerned about is educating others. If we can’t teach people what to expect from a professional or what makes good photography, it won’t matter how much we try and make good photography ourselves.
I’m working on a side project which involves going through my collection of random ephemera and pulling out items for scanning. In addition to being a nice change of pace from my usual workflow, it’s a lot of fun to be reminded why I held on to all kinds of random crap. Today’s exhibit involves ticket stubs.
The one above is from the 1989 World Series game which was interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake. Yes, I was there. And as anyone familiar with Candlestick can tell you, I was way way way up at the top of the stadium. That the rain check is absent is my proof that I returned for the rescheduled game 10 days later. I’m still shocked that the ticket price is only $40. Parking probably costs that much now.
Sticking with the topic of crazy ticket prices, how does the idea of paying $250 for a pair of tickets to five World Cup games sound? In 1994, that’s how cheap soccer tickets had to be for people to go. I made it to three of the five games we purchased. The first one was Brazil’s 3-0 victory over Cameroon and was also my first real introduction to international soccer crowds.
I ended up being lucky enough to get to see Brazil and the USA meet in the second round game (on July 4th too!). Not the best of games but it’s not every day you get to see your national team play Brazil in the knockout round of the World Cup.
While I didn’t go to too many concerts while I was in high school, I did get to see many of the bands which, in hindsight, I should have seen. Yay for festivals. Pearl Jam was one of the few full-length concerts I went to. I remember it being good. Opening acts made less of an impression on me (even though I think one of them was Ben Harper).
I know there are recordings of this show out there. I’m simultaneously curious to hear the recordings and scared that they won’t be what I remember.
Also of note about this ticket stub is that it dates from the period of time when Pearl Jam was boycotting TicketMaster. In fact, none of the ticket stubs here have any exorbitant service fees associated with them. A different world indeed…