I don’t know who created the smiley face on the cut limb of a big old tree in my town, but I appreciate it. I pass it every day, sometimes several times a day, and I glance up every time. It’s been there for several years, and I can see the passage of time in this face (and in my own, of course.) Here it is four years ago, with two eyes, more of a chin and with its bark outline intact. One day, one storm or one development project and it will be gone. But while it’s here, it’s a good smile, a cheerful thing.
I subscribe to a the free PhotoJojo Time Capsule service that sends me an e-mail message every two weeks with a few of my most interesting photos from a year ago. Sometimes it reminds me of a trip or other special event, sometimes it reminds me of favorite places I may or may not have been lately, and sometimes it reminds me it’s time to get out there and find something new to capture.
Today I was happy to get this message from a trip to Washington, DC, last year, because on Saturday I am headed down there for the Computers in Libraries conference. Going to here to DC in April is always fun, because it doesn’t feel like going 450 miles south, it feels like going 4-5 weeks into the future, where the grass is green and it’s really and truly spring!
It’s a rainy Sunday. This morning I went out for breakfast and parked in front of the Beverly Public Library. I took a picture of the roses there, wet with rain. On my way home, I stopped at the Wenham Cemetery for a few minutes and took a picture of the autumn leaves on the trees and on the ground. Then I stopped for a few minutes at Hamilton-Wenham Public Library to take a picture of the library and another looking down Union Street — more autumn leaves on trees and on the ground.
If I look through my 8,000+ photographs on Flickr, I can find near duplicates for each of these pictures. I like the rain. I like roses. I like autumn leaves. I drive past this library and this cemetery nearly every day, sometimes five or more times a day. I like stopping to take pictures, and often find myself standing in pretty much the exact same spot, taking nearly identical pictures.
I like to think of myself as an adventurous person. I love to travel and photograph new places, and I like to take that traveler’s mindset at home, and explore the area where I live, finding and photographing places with historical significance, or just things I find visually interesting.
But I also love my daily routine, and don’t mind taking nearly identical photographs of familiar places. For me, photography is not primarily about creativity, it’s about appreciating and capturing whatever catches my eye on any given day, even if that means I end up with lots of nearly identical pictures.
“A good snapshot stops a moment from running away.”
[Detail from Portrait of Eudora Welty by Mildred Nungester Wolfe at the National Portrait Gallery. More about this portrait on the National Portrait Gallery’s facetoface blog.]
Oh, how I longed for the Polaroid Swinger! I was the target demographic for this breezy 1965 television commercial, which made it seem so appealing:
Meet the Swinger, the Polaroid Swinger
It’s more than a camera, it’s almost alive
It’s only nineteen dollars, and ninety-five
This camera talked to you — a blocky display said YES when you had the settings right, and in ten seconds, you had a picture that you could show your friends so you’d all see what cool and carefree teens you really were!
I was already in love with Polaroid, thanks to my Uncle Steve Brown who worked for Polaroid and who spent every family holiday doing his instant photography magic. The Swinger seemed magical like that, only without the complicated camera and the fixative stick.
Plus, although I was smart enough to know better, a hopeful little voice within me believed that the Swinger somehow came with a cool lifestyle. Sadly, despite my many hours of babysitting, nineteen dollars and ninety-five was beyond my means, and I never got to ride my bike around the countryside with this adorable little camera swinging merrily from my handlebars. I could only photograph my friends using my Kodak Instamatic, which had to be sent off for developing. (And I can still hear the click and shift and smell the melty-plastic aroma of those Flashcubes.)
These are not old family pictures — not my family pictures, anyway. They were the dummy pictures in a double picture frame that I bought recently. I find myself fascinated by these two pictures, because unlike most of the photos you see in new wallets and picture frames, these look real. They look like snapshots, not studio portraits, and they could be from my family album (and probably yours.) They have a soft, faded quality, not much detail to suggest a particular time or place, and the subjects of both pictures are looking down so you can’t really see their faces, all of which makes it easier to see whoever you want to see in them.
I took these pictures out of the frame because I found I was getting a little too attached to them, even though the frame is still just sitting in a box. I wanted them to look up so I could see their faces. I wanted them to be part of my family. It occurred to me that I could just leave these pictures in the frame, set it among my other old family pictures, and just pass the pictures off as anyone and get away with it. (The young woman on the right could definitely pass as my mother.) Everyone would believe me, including my family, and over time they would blend in with the other old family photos (the real ones) not only on the shelf but in everyone’s minds. But that’s just crazy. Now I want to throw these pictures away, but it feels wrong somehow. What if my recycling container falls over and my papers blow around, and someone sees these and thinks I am throwing away real old family photographs?
I look at the pictures again, and I wonder who these people are, Are they still alive? Do their own families have copies of these pictures. I wonder why I am wondering about these things.
[Later] The picture frame by Kathy Gustafson of J. Devlin Art Glass, and apparently the photographs are from her own family albums. (I bought my picture frame at Casa de Moda in Beverly.)
I stopped in Middleton yesterday to take some pictures of the Old Town Hall, an 1848 building, expanded in 1878, that I’ve long admired. I pulled into the parking lot behind the building to turn my car around and discovered the Tramp House, built in 1878 and recently restored. I didn’t know this building existed, and I’d never heard of “Tramp Houses” before, but a quick search on Google turned o
(Behind old Town Hall)
38 Maple Street
Text from Placque
In the decades following the Civil War, thousands of itinerant men, ‘tramps,’ followed the railrose to points north in search of work. By the 1870’s, the problem of coping with the increasing numbers of tramps prompted the town to purchase a plot of land from A.A. Averill for $25, and to contract with George B. Flint to build a lock-up or ‘Tramp House’ for $355. The Tramp House was completed in 1878, and was used to temporarily shelter these homeless men. In the early 20th century, as the tramp problem diminished, the Tramp House was utilized as a jail and briefly as the Police Station.
A Few Tramp House Links:
- Veterans, Tramps, and the Economic Crisis of 1873 — Interesting essay by Charles Baker from the Voices in Wartime website
- An Interview with Todd DePastino — Interesting interview with the author of Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America on the tramps of the 1870s evolved into the hobos of later decades
- Tramp House, New Vernon, New Jersey — Photo on Panoramio by alan_edelson
- Tramp House, Weare, New Hampshite — Photo on Panoramio by JBTHEMILKER
- Tramp House Reminds Us of Giving — Article and photo by Meg Collinson in the Lewiston, Maine Sub-Journal, November 28, 1991, about the New Sharon, Maine, tramp house
This grave marker is in the cemetery in Wenham, Massachusetts. I don’t know whose mother this is. The stone is in an area of the cemetery with graves from the 1800s with large monuments surrounded by small markers, but it’s difficult to sort out which stones belong to which family.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. I think most people who see this stone think of their own mother, as I did.