I’m about to call it a night when I decide to check in on the various neglected blogs I’m no longer finding the time to read. I’m checking Children’s Illustration which has a link to a story that the Library of Congress is putting chunks of it’s photo archives on Flickr.
I am so there in as quick as it takes to click.
You see, in one of those two-roads-diverged-in-a-yellow-wood moments in high school I felt a very strong pull toward photojournalism but I felt my talents were in storytelling. I didn’t feel my eye was strong enough to be a photographer but I was drawn to visual media and eventually decided to study film: visual storytelling.
I was never a big fan of “art” photography, I always felt that the photograph should capture a moment of time not the manipulation of the space before the lens. Yes, Ansel Adams created some some spectacular images but once you realize how much those images were manipulated in and outside of the darkroom you see just how sterile they are. Compared with the raw, seedy grit of Weegee’s world, or the detached order of Max Yavno, the studio work of Richard Avedon or Annie Lebowitz feels empty. To me.
Sorry for photogeeking.
But here I am looking at the LOC Flickr collection, the color photos of the 1930s and 40s in particular, and image after image I’m struck with how genuine they feel. Not merely as documents of people and place but of a time when the scale of life felt human. Two men wrestling with a blimp. Comely carny burlesque girls backstage. A gingerbread Victorian house on a corner in Texas. An abandoned plantation house obscured by sunflowers. Not all the shots are brilliant, but the overall effect they had on me was moving. I’m certain the photographers had no idea they were doing anything more than capturing an image but somehow they all manage to reveal an honesty of spirit.
Ultimately, I don’t regret the decision to shy away from photojournalism because since my heady high school days much of photojournalism seems to have bent toward the artistic. Digital photography and digital manipulation have given us some terrific images and advances in capturing the impossible but we have lost an emotional integrity in the process. And to be fair, we no longer live in those simpler times where photographers can catch the quiet wonder of private blimp launch or the community pride in the weeding of victory gardens.
Will anyone in the future look back on our digicap age and pine for its simplicity?