Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Procrastination pleasure for the archivally minded library student:

Hundreds of photographs on, a vintage photography blog, depict vanished American scenes. The images are fascinating in their variety, oddness, and often, their beauty. Images on the site are typically from a restricted date range, the 1850s – 1950s. Little details of daily life appear: vanished technologies, WWI-era delivery trucks, 1920s car accidents, eccentrics and their inventions, airplanes and zeppelins, and more.

Shorpy is really about people, not things. Here they are: boy scouts, child laborers, soldiers, government employees, socialites, workers, Civil War soldiers, people at beaches and amusement parks, dancers, country people surviving the Great Depression, ‘artistic’ photos of chorus girls , the rich and the poor. Many images show early 20th century scenes of daily life in large cities such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City.

The beauty of lies in its variety and the ability to view high-resolution versions of each image by following a link. When the photographs, especially those originating as glass plate negatives, are viewed in high resolution it is easier to see small details such as signs, product labels, graffiti, or artwork in the background or margins of each image provide context and details about the places and people. High resolution detail reveals ads for Nehi soda and 1930scowboy movies.

There are some color images from a variety of sources, including personal collections. Recently, the site has hosted a fascinating LIFE magazine series by legendary photographer Marguerite Bourke-White depicted contrasting scenes of life under segregation in South Carolina circa 1956. Teenagers dance in a ‘juke joint’, and a nuclear family prays around the dinner table in a color-coordinated kitchen.

You can search for images by photographer name. Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Lewis Hine, and Walker Evans are just a few familiar names.

As the site’s slogan declares, there is “always something interesting” for the archivally-minded library student, history fans, or anyone interested in art and design. You’ll find at least one image here to intrigue and distract you from the papers you should be writing.

If you’re fascinated by cultural documents and maintaining their accessibility, please check out the campus activities and field trips offered by the student chapter of the Society of American Archivists at UW, or SAA-UW.

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