Articles

Something from Nothing

The individual is being outsized. Seduced by words like self care and convenience, we daily surrender our control to faceless entities literally designed to squander our time and means.

When we accept another bit of invasive technology, use a service that wasn’t automated last week or pay an unexplained processing fee, we chip away at our own self reliance and confidence.

Exhausted from the constant barrage of dazzling marketing and baited by perfectly targeted analytics we become motivated only by instant gratification. We react rather than consider and
ignore usefulness or whether the quality might hope to outlive the payment. It all stacks up to inescapable debt earned on the back of lifestyle brands sexy illusions and the false societies of a logo.

Fewer daily human interactions means less warm smiles or eyes met to break the spell of disconnection and depression. We work simply to consume. With our private moments we trust social sites with our most heartfelt emotions and celebrate milestones in space that can be easily forgotten or erased. For the first time since their invention, photographs are rarely printed. Do we no longer feel worthy of record? Our time so owned that we cannot freely share it?

For centuries, historians have discovered the biographies of geniuses and reconstructed whole societies from paper clues. In not so many years any tangible evidence of our own society will be gone at the click of a button or the power surge of a server. We are leaving nothing of ourselves behind. Are we without meaning?

Much of my time is spent chasing literal garbage, torn or stained scraps of paper disavowed and free floating on the open market. These are in just one word, TRUTH. The dead, generally, have very little reason to lie. Even small insights can become valuable lessons in a new context, as diverse perspectives weave human patterns through time. Without discovery, our written history is nothing more than propaganda.

The framework of our modern America took shape at the turn of the twentieth century as industrialization transformed small towns and farms to a network of cities. For the first time, new generations set out in masse in search of work and identity. The individual was born.

Photography was being modernized too. The early images developed on metal or glass were too expensive to be widely accessible to the working classes. Not every town had a studio. Not every one could afford such a luxury. Often a family’s whole visual history amounted to only a handful of images. Other families had no likenesses at all.

Paper photos (especially ready to mail postcards) filled both the demand for correspondence with distant family and the newly developing sense of self amongst Americans. Itinerants and traveling studio owners were able to service the needs of a whole town quickly before driving off to the next.

While Victorian studios were often rigid and employed impressive props to affect affluence and sophistication, itinerants usually carried no such ornaments. In a few hurried moments, sitters built a custom studio on their porch or sidewalk. The necessity of outdoor lighting allowed portraits free of perhaps harsh living conditions; a few meaningful possessions spirited out of coal dusted realities could be reborn in the sun. For just a few cents, reinvention and legacy were indeed possible.


Some pose against a wrinkled bed sheet and others display the very best of their family quilts (some with startling modern, artistic patterns). Some children show toys while others haven’t shoes to wear. Most sitters wore their best for the occasion – one stylish man even wears a top hat and fills old paint cans with field flowers.

There is freedom in making and making do, in creating one’s own definition despite weighty opposition. These proud faces imbue that strength. We are not expendable if we simply do not allow it.

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*It is possible that two of these images were taken either in cheap studios or tents, they are included for their analogous intent and overall delightfulness.

**Images are subtly watermarked, please do not use without owners (authors) express permission.