When I was kid one of my favorite things was exploring my grandmother’s house and looking at all the old stuff in the backs of office drawers. Most of it was junk to me but every once in a while I’d find something cool—typically old coins.* While these were always welcome I was much more interested in baseball cards.

*This should probably be its own post but among the wheat sheaf pennies, buffalo nickels, and Mercury dimes were some pretty cool finds both in terms of old US coinage as well as interesting international coinage.

Much to my dismay there never any sports ephemera. I knew that neither my dad nor my uncle collected cards but I always held out hope that they’d accumulated even a dozen or so anyway. No dice. Then one day I pulled out a pile of paper and two 1.75″×3.25″ cards fell out. I still remember getting goosebumps. They weren’t worth anything much—two 1917 Zeenut commons—but for a kid whose oldest card was a 1960 Topps* just having any baseball card that old was exciting as all hell.

*Orlando Cepeda.

I hadn’t thought much about those cards until SABR Baseball Cards’ recent Johnny Lindell post reminded me. In the over two dozen years since I found them I have a lot more resources to figure out what they are and who they depict. So that’s turned into a fun day of poking around the web.

Del Baker turned out to be pretty simple. The Seals were a stable franchise which never moved or changed names until the Giants came to town in 1958. And Baker was not just a catcher for the Detroit Tigers but went on to manage them to the 1940 pennant. This card is from his only season in San Francisco although he later ended up playing in Oakland.

I also found it interesting that he stayed in the game long enough to get his own Topps baseball card in 1954. While 1903 is the beginning of modern baseball history there’s something about how integration with Jackie Robinson in 1947 and Topps baseball cards becoming a thing five years later produced a game which feels much more familiar to me than anything pre World War 2.

Bert Whaling meanwhile was a lot more work. First, the spelling variation in his name meant searching for “Walling” got me nowhere and I needed help in order to find him. Second, he only played for Vernon in 1916, not 1917 and his career wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Still it was cool to find out that he also played a few seasons for the Boston Braves.

What was more interesting was finding out about the Vernon Tigers. Unlike the Seals, the Tigers are an example of the way that franchises were moving around all the time. They started off in Vernon (and Venice) because those were the only wet cities in otherwise-dry Los Angeles County. Once Prohibition hit there was no reason to be in Vernon so they moved to San Francisco and become the Mission Reds—taking the place of the San Francisco Missions who had previously moved to Salt Lake City. That didn’t work out so they moved back to Los Angeles and became the Hollywood Stars—replacing the previous Stars who had moved to San Diego.

Dad Scans II


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.


Dad scans


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.


Hawaii scans II


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


Hawaii scans


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.

We are paid professionals, do not try this at home

Grandpa Walter
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.