Vernacular Photography

If you’re like me, you can start gushing about Art Frahm and how his peek-a-boo celery pin-ups are under-appreciated slice of Americana. You can probably make a case for using Formica and garish linoleum in modern interior decorating. A mention of Sansabelt pants will earn you a knowing smile and firm nod from me. If you’re like most of the population on this earth, any mention of the above is sure to glaze your eyes. And, yes, I really do love Formica.

Now look, I can talk to anybody, and it’s not like I have this rare form of vintage-induced Asperger’s where I become completely socially paralyzed when you’re making small talk with me. But just be aware that when you ask me about my interests after we’ve just met at a party, I’m going to tell you that I can spend hours looking through a 60 year-old Sears catalog and not be bored for a single second. (I mean, do you know what a scrotal truss is? And do you know how much it might cost in 1949? I do!)

The one thing that gets me the most furrowed brows when I mention it is vernacular photography. Hardly anyone knows what the hell I’m referring to when I toss that one out there, but they’ve all seen it, and maybe gone searching for it themselves. Simply put, vernacular photography is old pictures. Most likely, there is a self-styled vernacular photography expert out there who can give a richer definition, but everyone can relate to old pictures. It’s photographic evidence of how things were. Personally, I believe the best vernacular photography comes from a time period that is not to distant in our past as to be history, but distant enough so that we can look back and feel a certain detachment from the subject. Small things about daily life that were ingrained then and alien to us today. Nicotine stained fingers. Glass baby bottles. Waistcoats and hats.

Of course, some things never change. Sullen teenagers, kids making faces at the camera, men taking portraits with their first loves (their first car), grinning women holding a highball glass in one hand, arm draped around the neck of her laughing best friend. They’re our family pictures. They’re photos we find, forgotten and bent in boxes at estate sales. They’re pictures of distant cousins whose names have been forgotten, vacationing newlyweds leaning against massive sequoias at the national parks, bridge partners your grandparents can’t recall, slick-sleeved young men posing for a last picture before heading off to Korea.

Do yourself a favor: go visit bighappyfunhouse and spend some downtime taking in the photos there. They’re hilarious, sad, poignant, beautiful, and will make you yearn for a time and place when we covered our couches entirely with clear plastic.

…photos via bighappyfunhouse…