Where does inspiration come from for your personal work? For me, it comes not only from the world around me, but also from images I see, particularly in my journeys as a collector. I read voraciously (my house movers can attest to that when they brought 50-odd boxes of books up two flights of stairs), I collect vintage anonymous vernacular work, I go to openings, and I consume as much visual media as I can.
I was looking around for additional pieces to add to my collection of Tom Thumb images when I came across this little gem –
And by little I do mean little – it’s 3 x 2 1/2 inches, smaller than a carte-de-visite. I was fascinated by the brilliance of the composition – even though this was most likely taken with a little box camera using 127 size film. The photographer posed the subject in such a way as to achieve near perfect symmetry of the subject’s form, contrasting with the dynamic sweep of the backdrop fabric. The style and lighting reminded me of the modern work of a photographer I admire – Reuven Afanador.
Reuven’s work has a very ‘vintage’ feel to it, and this body of images is highly reminiscent of 19th century wet-plate work.
Finding this little photo of the bodybuilder inspired me to shoot a new series working with the same kind of backdrop and lighting. Ideally with a daylight studio, but I’ll take what I can find right now as I’m studio-less.
Here’s a cute photo of a teenage boy in a toreador suit, taken in Mexico City, August 20, 1949. The photographer’s stamp on the back of the print specifies the exact date, which is inordinately helpful. I just wish I could read his name, though – the script on the front AND the typeface used for his name on the back makes it impossible for me to decipher the exact spelling of his last name. Translation of the stamp:
A Photographer Whom You Can Recommend
Bolivar 57, Tel: 12.38.84
20 August 1949
I don’t know that this boy would actually have been a toreador – he could well have been playing dress-up for the camera. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s legit. Google Mapping the studio address, in all likelihood this was a very posh studio in the center of Mexico City, not far from the historic district (I found THREE addresses with the same street number around the city, but the street views of the other two showed nothing that looked like commercial enterprise ever happening there). If anyone out there in cyberland knows who this photographer was, I’d greatly appreciate letting me know the exact spelling of his name and any biographical data about him. Ditto for the identity of the subject – if he was in fact a toreador, someone out there somewhere knows who he is.
I cropped out some of the card the image is mounted on because it would be wasting space on the screen to show nothing of value, and left enough to show the texture and pattern of the card decoration. It’s truly a vintage piece of the period. The stamp I converted to black and white so I could tweak the contrast in Photoshop and make it easier to read.
Aah- the wonders of google. I was trying to figure out the photographers name, and did some google searching, and came up with Carlos Ysunza as a name. Additionally, there is a currently practicing commercial photographer in Mexico City by that same name. I’ll email him and find out if he is the son of the Carlos who took this photo.
Here is a circa 1920 image, entitled “A Tewa Bowman” by W. Allen Cushman, a noted photographer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In keeping with the Edward Curtis tradition of tarting up his models with inauthentic costume bits to make a “better” photograph, Mr. Cushman put a plains Indian headdress on a southwest tribe member. And while the Tewas may have run around in loincloths on occasion (ceremonies or religious rituals), like their neighbors the Navajo and Hopi, they tended to wear shirts and leggings – the sun can be brutal when it’s out, and the cold can be equally so in wintertime – New Mexico is at similar altitude to parts of Colorado, so they get snow at higher elevations.
The image serves as a historic landmark in understanding the evolution of white man’s attitude toward native Americans. For the first several centuries of contact, the primary attitude ranged from indifference to hostility to downright genocide. By the beginnings of the 20th century, a new romanticized view of the ‘noble savage’ was taking hold, along with the growing realization that native peoples were truly dying out and vanishing altogether. In addition to the general romanticization, there is an obvious homoerotic undertone to the image. Note the smooth skin and the taut physique of the model. It’s a form of sublty emasculating the subject, making him at a time both sexually charged and non-threatening. All you’d have to do to turn this into an F. Holland Day photo would be to swap the feather headdress for a turban, and substitute an African model, and bingo.
Original print roughly 4×6, in a cardboard passé-partout with the photographer’s imprint Henline (or is it Henune – hard to tell from the typeface), Klamath Falls, Oregon. It’s another image that’s fun to speculate on the relationship between the sitters – most probably just friends, but who knows? It’s the odd-couple pairing that inserts the questions as much as anything else. Unlike other, older tintype photos of two unrelated men together, there’s no obvious physical affection occurring. Is the absence of affectionate gesture a sign of “just friends”, or is it an indicator that by the 20th century, affectionate gestures between men were no longer acceptable, even when it was “just friends”?
Here is a vintage silver gelatin print of a sailor’s ritual head shaving on his first crossing of the equator. Note the “mermaid” in long blond wig administering the shaving, and the asian sailor restraining the recipient of the haircut. This must have been a merchant ship, possibly in the Pacific, pre- WW II. In any case, a fascinating snippet of nautical culture as seen from an insider’s perspective.
Here’s a neat anonymous vernacular photo of a man, his car and the open road – it’s in many ways the American archetype. The car is a 1938 Packard (appears to be a Packard 120, their ‘entry level’ model, sort of like a Mercedes C-Class today).
Despite the fact that the car is a near-luxury car, this is so emblematic of the American psyche – a man and his car on the open road, the spirit of freedom and independence. It’s also remarkable to see how far the American roadscape had come by 1938 from 1919 when then-Lt.Col. Eisenhower crossed the country in a military convoy averaging 5.6 mph, requiring 573 hours to cover 3250 miles. Less than 10% of the road surface in the US was paved in 1919. I took the same approximate route Eisenhower did, in 2000, and it took roughly 42 hours (3 1/2 days at roughly 12 hours a day).
Here’s a snapshot of a 1930 Packard Big Eight roadster (I’ll give a fudge factor of -1 to -2 years, but I’m pretty confident it is a 1930). Notice the golf bag door in the rear fender, and the terrier sitting on the convertible top. It’s definitely a Packard – the wheels and hubcaps are pretty definitive, but the absolute dead giveaway is the hood ornament.