Monday, February 15, 2010

Shorpy, Part The Second

Early Motown
No matter where you live in the States, on you might find pictures that’ll hurtle you back a century in your own neighborhood’s life. How I have pored over this view of a sunny day on Woodward Avenue, 93 years past.

I’ve wondered about the mothers and their children. Was that girl in the white dress – above the ankle! – a flapper-to-be, a handful for her worried parents? And just up the street from them, a mom grabs onto her exuberant young son as he attempts, (like all boys everywhere and everytime) to make his great get-away.

Look, there’s a soldier, in the same kind of Army uniform I’ve seen in a picture of my grandfather that was taken the same year, in a town 100 miles to the north. And what is the man in the shade, the White Suit with Hands on His Hips, what is he looking at off beyond our frame to the left/west?

My gawd, the cars. The streetcars. The signs. Hudsons. A movie theatre playing a picture show about Ty Cobb. The Soldiers and Sailors monument, which still stands downtown.

Such moving personal emotions come from looking at these 100-years-past strangers. But Shorpy is also about sharing the view with other commenters.

Roadside Gawkers

Take for instance, this picture of gawkers (there‘ve always been gawkers) eyeing a D.C. storm‘s damage, 1913.

The range of 21st-century comments on Shorpy are typical: Wry jokes about those people who finally got to be on the internet. Another who expresses the all-too-common desire to jump into the photo and strike up a convo (as we say on the Internet) with those denizens of this black-and-white world.
 Who Made It Out Alive?

One thing leads to another, and then a different picture of the same storm’s havoc.

And as I read the reports of the terrible damage, I study my own reaction. Hastily skimming, hoping to learn that people described as “perhaps fatally hurt,” or “likely to die,” (they didn’t mince words in those days), did indeed survive.

And why do I wish that, as those people are all long gone anyway?

Doesn’t it go back to the same reason we wish to jump in the photo in the first place - the connection we feel with these people, the feeling that they’re not dead - because they still live in those photos.

And then I wonder - who’ll find a picture of us, 100 years from now, and will they think about us, and care about us, and wish they could talk with us?

All Images Courtesy

This Old Photo: Part One


First Shorpy was a kid coal miner who had a short, hard life. But because a few pictures of him were taken one day long ago, he lives on in that ephemeral way that photos can bring us immortality - randomly, sometimes whimsically, very often poignantly.

Shorpy the Website
And now Shorpy lives on as the very name of a website devoted to the mystery and yet the immediacy of old photos.
Each day brings a few new photos, some of which have been lovingly restored by the site runners. And with these instant portraits of long-ago days comes witty, informative, nostalgic, always fascinating and fascinated blog commentary.

It Takes a Village, ca. 1905
Here’s a recent gem from New York City, 110 years ago. Sure, it's a chance for non-New Yorkers to discover this beautiful, still existent architectural gem which has had at least three lives. (Market, courthouse, library.) A kremlinesque colorful lower Manhattan landmark which has posed for paintings, from the Ashcan School all the way to present-day sidewalk artists.

But on a nonspecific day, circa 1905, was the centerpiece of this quick study on early 20th-century urban street life.

HD Web-See
Ramp open the Hi-Def view and drink in the details of a day when George M. Cohan was actually performing somewhere in that city: Take a look up 10th Street - The laundry airing on the roof opposite. The cop, the stairway loiterer, the streetcars, the horse-and-buggies, the wagon piled high with barrels, the horse fountain(?) on the corner of the building. And to the left, on Sixth: The train pulling away, the guy below striding along, reading his paper, a sign on a more distant building advertising a Famous Old Remedy Painkiller (Keep It Handy).

30 Rock, '33
Now quick, jump forward with me. Is this moment in time in the Village really only 28 years before this stunning central Manhattan image? 
And is there any more spectacular city image anywhere than this moody night shot of the brand-spanking new, now-iconic 30 Rockefeller Center?

All images courtesty