Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Scene From 1934

I've been a photographer for quite some time, but I've been an appreciator of vintage photography for over a decade, as well. It's partially a result of my past hobby of collecting old cameras, but this passion really came to fruition several summers ago, when I worked a job in the graphic division at the University of Michigan Clements Library. There, I handled thousands of photographs, their dates spanning from the 1850s through the 1970s. Most of the photography collection at the Clements Library is vernacular photography – that is, photographs taken by everyday people of everyday places. I find vernacular photography to be some of the most interesting photography out there.

Despite its current popularity, dead animal photography is nothing new. Taxidermy was a popular photographic subject, especially that of exotic, unusual animals on display in museums. Sometimes, though, more bizarre photographs will surface, and they really can't be explained:

 I recently purchased this photograph. It combines several of my favorite things: vernacular photography, Michigan, taxidermy, and deer. It was developed (and likely shot) in Detroit, Michigan; the back of the photograph is stamped March 14, 1934 by the processor ("Eastman Kodak Stores, Detroit"). It's hard to see in the scan, but the sign propped up against the larger deer reads "KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF."

For the time when this photograph was taken, and even by today's standards, the deer were mounted extraordinarily well. It's interesting to note that the buck on the right seems to have piebald coloration on his legs – perhaps that was why he was mounted in full, as his antlers are a bit short of impressive.

Of course, there is no other information attached to this photograph, which leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. Why were the deer outside, in a neighborhood yard? Who was the photographer, and did these deer belong to him or her? Why was the photograph taken? What state is this neighborhood in now? What happened to the deer?

What I love about this photograph is that it's something that could have been taken yesterday. It's so absurd, so surreal, and yet it's somehow very contemporary in nature.

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