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March 22, 2011 9:49 AM   Subscribe

50 Unexplainable Black & White Photos. That is all. (Mildly NSFW.)
posted by flyingsquirrel (122 comments total) 87 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first isn't so unexplainable, as those ladies are likely of the Temperance movement.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


What your grandmother would have forwarded you, if they the internets back then.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Explanation for photo #1: 19th century Temperance Movement propaganda.

Not sure about the others.
posted by Gordion Knott at 9:53 AM on March 22, 2011


Damnit, I've seen the one with the kid and the chicken before (#4). Maybe he was some kind of circus performer?
And damn, great collection. Some of these will haunt me for a while, like the WTF bloodied mattress - a bit much blood for a celebration of deflowering, maybe a bedridden child's first hog slaughter?
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:53 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED - Andrew Ryan's Photo Album
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


MetaFilter: _
posted by DU at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


#12 shows that $20 is not the same as in town.
posted by maxwelton at 9:55 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Neat post!

I was planning making an FPP around a similar link later today, but it seems more appropriate included here: Historical Indulgences. A tumblr of historical photos. (some are NSFW)
posted by zarq at 9:56 AM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


On location at the Overlook Hotel
posted by DU at 9:57 AM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


#19 looks like an early Black Mesa company picnic.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:57 AM on March 22, 2011


Number 10 WTFFFFFFFF. The look on the boy's face seems to suggest that he too is also thinking WTFFFFFFF.
posted by afx237vi at 9:57 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some of these are scans of postcards and flyers, and others are weird pictures collected from the internet. Tineye is your friend.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:59 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing circuses, freak show/record-setters and secret societies account for some of them.

The story behind #33 can't be good. #2 can't have a happy ending either.

#49 is straight out of The Shining.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:59 AM on March 22, 2011


Okay then.
posted by zarq at 10:00 AM on March 22, 2011


#47 should have been the cover to Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea."
posted by rusty at 10:00 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The penguin one is quite famous. It was taken in Edinburgh back in the 50s by Werner Bischof
posted by the cuban at 10:01 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Collections like this really make me wonder what bizarre contextless photos from this era will puzzle people 100 years in the future. I imagine the motivation behind some of these was the same as people who make WTF? photoshops today -- why put antlers on a kid? For the lulz!
posted by lilac girl at 10:01 AM on March 22, 2011


zarq: Okay then.

That's what she said!

I'm so sorry, I couldn't resist.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:01 AM on March 22, 2011


Most of those are wacky but #33 is very ominous. Is that Nazi iconography in the background? What's going on there?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:03 AM on March 22, 2011


This kind of awesome needs no explanation.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:03 AM on March 22, 2011


It's a good collection, fun viewing.

Bugs me, though, when people slap these things together and don't credit any sources, and don't give any info (and on many of these they could've). It's lazy.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:04 AM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


gottabefunky - #49 is straight out of The Shining.

Weird, I was just typing that #17 reminded me of this scene from The Shining.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 10:04 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bugs me, though, when people slap these things together and don't credit any sources, and don't give any info (and on many of these they could've). It's lazy.

That sums up 90% of image sites on the internet.
posted by Theta States at 10:08 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


#10: Nobody celebrates Christmas properly anymore.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:08 AM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Um this one's clearly freshman-year calculus. Did.... didn't your classes look like that? Anyone?
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:08 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I could explain all of those to you, but then I would have to kill you.
posted by tomswift at 10:09 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I wrong for wanting a print of #23?

And thank you, cuban, for that info! I have a different Werner Bischof penguin print from the same Edinburgh series (1950) hanging in my office, which I found in the company's pile of office wall art. (Why no one else had snatched it up, I'll never know.)
posted by flyingsquirrel at 10:09 AM on March 22, 2011


My Aunt Mickey has had the picture of the smoking kid with the chicken framed and hung up in her bathroom for as long as I can remember.
posted by brand-gnu at 10:11 AM on March 22, 2011


That sums up 90% of image sites on the internet.

Cite?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:12 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's right, bee-yach! Who else wants some?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:15 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, #10 is Krampus & Black Peter.
posted by anazgnos at 10:16 AM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


That sums up 90% of image sites on the internet.

Cite?


Come on, don't be clever. Everyone knows 80% of statistics are made up on the spot.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:16 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of them is Dora Maar's rather famous photo of an armadillo embryo, Père Ubu. A couple of them seem like they might be Ralph Eugene Meatyard? But I don't know him as well as I should.
posted by with hidden noise at 10:16 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I saw the FPP I was all like "Unexplainable my ass. I bet these are perfectly reasonable to anyone with like an ounce of historical knowledge."

Then I clicked on the link.




Oh, internet, you win again.
posted by oddman at 10:16 AM on March 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


Meh. A 100 years ago, most photos had to be composed. So people got whimsical. Film at 11.
posted by ocschwar at 10:17 AM on March 22, 2011


Anyone who can look at those photos and say MEH clearly is not someone I want at a party. I mean, shit is a gold mine of lulz captioning hilarity.
posted by spicynuts at 10:18 AM on March 22, 2011


The smoking kid with chicken is famous. Its called Portrait of Henri Groulx and there are others in the series

I've seen many of the others before as well.
posted by Lame_username at 10:18 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I saw this yesterday. It was linked off of another FPP I believe. What the hell is #2? Honestly.
posted by djduckie at 10:20 AM on March 22, 2011


All very David Lynchian to my brain.

And yeah, I got the Krampus photo right away.

Most of the others, however...
posted by hippybear at 10:21 AM on March 22, 2011


A few more

and I just realized all my favorite vintage photos feature lions.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:22 AM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I will 100% be framing some of these and placing them around my house.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:24 AM on March 22, 2011


I have a poster of 8 on my wall and I love it so, so much. The look of mild concern on the girl's face is priceless.
posted by lydhre at 10:25 AM on March 22, 2011


#48 is now my wallpaper. It's like an awesome version of those "Hang In There Kitten" posters.
posted by Maaik at 10:26 AM on March 22, 2011


I actually liked the one of the little girl and the penguins.

Because who the hell doesn't like penguins?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Anyone who can look at those photos and say MEH clearly is not someone I want at a party. I mean, shit is a gold mine of lulz captioning hilarity."

Oh, I use pictures like these as lulz fodder all the time: one at a time, to maximize eyebrow cocking among my hapless victims. But put them together like this, and meh. Late 19th Century and early 20th: the dawn of Dadaism.
posted by ocschwar at 10:27 AM on March 22, 2011


It's a "beautiful body" competition of some sort, and the masks are to take facial attractiveness out of the equation.
posted by anazgnos at 10:27 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This just in: people have been acting goofy since at least the 19th century. And now to Biff with the latest in sports!
posted by tommasz at 10:28 AM on March 22, 2011


Number 23 wins. It's the cat that clinches it.
posted by Decani at 10:29 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


#23 is clearly the inspiration for Hans Liebchen.
posted by Gungho at 10:31 AM on March 22, 2011


The skeleton photographs remind me of the fabulously gruesome book Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930, which contains many images of medical students posed with cadavers and skeletons (like this bizarre Christmas postcard). NPR story (sigh); Amazon.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 10:37 AM on March 22, 2011


what
posted by jquinby at 10:42 AM on March 22, 2011


They all suggest explanations, it's the single unified explanation that eludes me. Although, I do think it must have something to do with original sin.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:42 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought #30 could be Robert Pershing Wadlow, but it's not. But! The guy in the picture with Robert Pershing Wadlow in that link appears to be the 'normal sized man' in #30.
posted by norm at 10:42 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I should say, "could be". All those white people look alike.)
posted by norm at 10:43 AM on March 22, 2011


In the case of #26, WTF clearly stands for Whee Total Fun!
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:43 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the unified explanation goes something like this.

"Things are changing and you'll never guess how!"

Lovely link.
posted by salishsea at 10:44 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


jquinby: First concept photos for Bioshock.
posted by djduckie at 10:44 AM on March 22, 2011


Oh and does #36 remind anyone else of the creepy, gasmask-wearing kid from Dr. Who, who kept saying "Have you seen my Mummy?"

*shudders*
posted by flyingsquirrel at 10:44 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I do believe #43 is the Hipster Adam.
posted by Bromius at 10:47 AM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Based on the amount of fluid, I would guess that #2 is a mattress upon which someone had recently given birth.

Also, if you want more of the same weirdness, there is always blackandwtf.tumblr.com
posted by Alison at 10:57 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Am I wrong for wanting a print of #23?

Someone's trying hard for a 4F.
posted by drezdn at 10:57 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


#23: puss n' boots
posted by googly at 11:00 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was doing pretty well through the whole set (except for the occasional "oh shit, I -really- don't want to know"), but #23 beat me and broke my brain.
posted by Iosephus at 11:08 AM on March 22, 2011


Ada Lovelace, Steampuncher.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:09 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


George Clooney as a child.
posted by Xoebe at 11:09 AM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I will 100% be framing some of these and placing them around my house.

I will 100% not be visiting your house.
posted by doublehappy at 11:11 AM on March 22, 2011


#26 seems pretty explicable. But it makes up for it in awesomeness.
posted by Paris Hilton at 11:13 AM on March 22, 2011


I wonder if someone got hold of a Dadaist's photo album. Or someone who's decided he could outweird Diane Arbus.
posted by Mike D at 11:14 AM on March 22, 2011


Proof that the old idiom for "I'll punch you in the dick," was "I'll kick your pickle!!!1!"

hot-cha!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:16 AM on March 22, 2011


I SAID SEEDLESS!!!!
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:40 AM on March 22, 2011


Number 16 is probably an old New Years lucky pig postcard. See more lucky pig postcards.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:44 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because ice cream's got no bones.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:54 AM on March 22, 2011


Great! That settles that old argument about elephants and backseats.
posted by New England Cultist at 11:55 AM on March 22, 2011


Steve Buscemi, Steve Buscemi, and Steve Buscemi make a happy family.
posted by echo target at 12:27 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I didn't bother to research these photographs" is not the same thing as "these photos cannot be explained."

I sort of wish somebody would do the research. The ones I already knew about-- the Krampuses, for example -- are much more interesting with that knowledge instead of gesturing at it and saying, gosh, nobody can ever know what this means!
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:33 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yay for penguins!
posted by blakslaks at 12:36 PM on March 22, 2011


What. Is. It?!?!!?!??!
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:48 PM on March 22, 2011


Number 6 and as somebody else mentioned number 4 are both from this Weird and Wacky exhibit from Archives Canada. Number 6 is just a guy wrestling a trained bear. Used to be a fairly common attraction.
posted by interplanetjanet at 12:54 PM on March 22, 2011


What. Is. It?!?!!?!??!

Armadillo? With its ears back, maybe?
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:57 PM on March 22, 2011


These are ace.

Number 22 (sans gun) is kinda how i imagine Polly and Digory in "The Magicians Nephew"

Number 28 is early porn - the photographer even had the girl keep her sexy black shoes on. nice work.
posted by marienbad at 12:59 PM on March 22, 2011


I'm going to send #18 out as a Christmas card this year.
posted by ob at 1:03 PM on March 22, 2011


Number 26 is a photo of an English all terrain car from the Netherlands National Archives.
posted by interplanetjanet at 1:04 PM on March 22, 2011


#14 is great: the hard eyes, the posture, the belt and crisp pants. Although the shirt does give him a Sipowicz quality.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:14 PM on March 22, 2011


What. Is. It?!?!!?!??!

Armadillo? With its ears back, maybe?


I'm gonna say fetal armadillo, maybe?
posted by Rock Steady at 1:22 PM on March 22, 2011


Damnit, I've seen the one with the kid and the chicken before (#4). Maybe he was some kind of circus performer?

I don't know what he actually was, but he's now the "me" I one day aspire to be. If only there were a half empty bottle of rye whiskey sitting next to him, the effect would be perfect.
posted by quin at 1:23 PM on March 22, 2011


This is my new favorite picture of anything, ever. I wonder what the guy who won the bet had to do?
posted by cmyk at 1:25 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


And what's inexplicable about #21? You've got your basic pretty girl, in a nice dress, smiling for her photo with her sweet little pet kitty sitting in her lap.

Seems perfectly normal to me.

posted by quin at 1:26 PM on March 22, 2011


Art Photography: Weird then, weird now.
posted by clockbound at 1:35 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Somewhat off-topic, but when did "unexplainable" replace "inexplicable"? Or is the difference regional/temporal? Just curious.

Maybe a question for Ask MetaFilter? (I'm new here).
posted by mostlymuppet at 1:46 PM on March 22, 2011


41 looks like Anthony Hopkins had an interesting childhood.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:47 PM on March 22, 2011


I think I saw #49 in an issue of The Invisibles
posted by jtron at 1:52 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


28: "Bet you can't get that on by yourself, big boy."
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:56 PM on March 22, 2011


TinEye tells me that some of these images are posted in much nicer quality over at a LiveJournal community called "Adski Kafeteri" aka "all things amazing"
posted by jtron at 2:02 PM on March 22, 2011


I sort of wish somebody would do the research. The ones I already knew about-- the Krampuses, for example -- are much more interesting with that knowledge instead of gesturing at it and saying, gosh, nobody can ever know what this means!

The other side of this coin is that the utter contextlessness (<-there's a better word for that, I'm sure) of this presentation has allowed people's imaginations to run wild & look at them with fresh eyes. Plenty of them can be and have been explained, but for about 5 minutes, I got the sheer WFT wonder of it all. I kind of enjoyed making stuff up about these pictures in my mind.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:32 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I wish I hadn't already become so excessively familiar with the culture of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Too many of these seem normal to me, or least cause a reaction like "oh, hah, like that one really early special effects film with the strange Santa Claus and the black curtain and hey I bet those guys made their living in a freak show..."

It's actually much weirder, in my experience, to see photos from this era where people just look, you know, normal.
posted by SMPA at 2:36 PM on March 22, 2011


Hey! It's Sarah Palin!
posted by Evernix at 2:48 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


you're a kitty! : and I just realized all my favorite vintage photos feature lions.

I commented on that lion in a sidecar photo a few years ago, and all my questions still stand.

Regardless, it still inspires me.
posted by quin at 2:58 PM on March 22, 2011


>>What. Is. It?!?!!?!??!

>Armadillo? With its ears back, maybe?

I'm gonna say fetal armadillo, maybe?


already identified
posted by anazgnos at 2:59 PM on March 22, 2011


#49 is straight out of The Shining.

Is there some furry-themed director's cut of that film that I am unaware of?
posted by IvoShandor at 3:24 PM on March 22, 2011


#49 is straight out of The Shining.

Is there some furry-themed director's cut of that film that I am unaware of?


Yes. But you don't want to have to go through everything necessary to get access to it.

(Actually, that reminds me oddly of Lynch's Rabbits. But as I said earlier, the entire set feels Lynchian to me.)
posted by hippybear at 3:31 PM on March 22, 2011


#12: More like gory hole, amirite?
posted by Sys Rq at 3:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


#12: More like gory hole, amirite?

I think what makes it inexplicable is that the cock is supposed to be sticking its head through the hole. Clearly the image is reversed.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:06 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Quite a few of these are photos submitted to Ripley's Believe It Or Not!.

And #23 looks like Graham Chapman from Monty Python, doing something rather in the style of the Flying Circus.
posted by Mechashiva at 7:54 PM on March 22, 2011


..."and that's what happens to children who play Dungeons and Dragons."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:24 PM on March 22, 2011


The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
posted by SPrintF at 9:31 PM on March 22, 2011


Man, all those are so odd. Thanks for the post!
posted by jwmollman at 10:28 PM on March 22, 2011


Well that sure did what it said on the tin. I've enjoyed reading the explanations and background posted in this thread, but I have to say I liked just looking at them without knowing anything about them too. #2 definitely gave me pause, but I did assume it was a recent childbirth, given the amount of blood and the cheeriness of the women holding up the mattress. Oh and thanks a lot to the person who posted that image from The Shining...I had forgotten all about that scene. Gahhh.

mostlymuppet: Somewhat off-topic, but when did "unexplainable" replace "inexplicable"? Or is the difference regional/temporal?

I'm curious about this too. I have always said "inexplicable," and I find "unexplainable" to be rather clunky, but I suspect this is just personal preference. My Concise Oxford Dictionary (admittedly, an old edition, 1984) lists both, but "unexplainable" doesn't have its own entry; it's just included in a list of "un-" words and then refers the reader to the entry for the second definition of "un-", which reads, "convey[s]...the absence of a quality." The entry for "inexplicable" reads "that cannot be explained or accounted for." So...basically the same meaning for both.

(I won that dictionary for being a word nerd in Grade Seven. Can you tell?)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:54 AM on March 23, 2011


(Actually, that reminds me oddly of Lynch's Rabbits. But as I said earlier, the entire set feels Lynchian to me.)

If only "furry" was more like Lynch's Rabbits!!!
posted by Theta States at 7:30 AM on March 23, 2011


The lady in #29 looks like my mother, to an amazing degree. It's not impossible, my mom was a model.
posted by Goofyy at 8:06 AM on March 23, 2011


inexplicable : incapable of being explained, interpreted, or accounted

Unexplainable covers only the first of those three. If we can explain #2 as evidence of childbirth, but we can't interpret the posture and facial expressions of the enthusiastic exhibitors, than maybe that's inexplicable.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:09 AM on March 23, 2011


Number 2: Rorschach wet his bed.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:10 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


#48 is mad sexy! What's wrong with me??
posted by thinkpiece at 8:39 AM on March 23, 2011


Sent picture 2 to my GF yesterday, with a brief note explaining it was some older female relatives posing in front of the family menstrual hut. I think she believed me for a minute or two...
posted by jtron at 9:07 AM on March 23, 2011


#23 is quite easily explained, actually. While one might assume the outhouse in the background is just coincidence, in fact the photographer included it in the frame to provide a crucial clue. Joachim here was gently napping in the dugout when he felt a pressing need to evacuate his bowels. The outhouse being a good couple of hundred meters away, he puts on boots in order not to freeze his feet.

There is also the enemy to consider: British or French, it does not matter, because neither one of them respects the enemy enough to not shell him while he is completing his particulars. And while being shrapnelled in the head whilst committing the deed would be inconvenient, being tear-gassed before you've had the chance to wipe would be shamefully undignified. After consideration, Joachim takes along his helmet and gas-mask.

The bayonet on the belt tells us that this photograph was taken in the morning. The enemy was known to try to sneak into the trenches during the night. What if on the course of ambulating towards the shitting parlor Joachim would come across a clever Tommy who wants to kill him quietly and efficiently with a well-placed stab? An awesome knife-fight would ensue, because Joachim was prescient enough to bring his bayonet.

But what about the cat? The cat is actually the easiest to explain. Cats are notorious in their Goldblumesque desire to watch their master poop. Thus the cat followed Joachim into the outhouse and there desired to be picked up due to the aforementioned light snow-cover.

And even though the Germans are notoriosly serious even they can recognize the adorable hilarity that is a cat sitting on a helmet.
posted by Authorized User at 9:48 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Photo #30 -- is the little person perhaps Gen. Tom Thumb?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 AM on March 23, 2011


thinkpiece: #48 is mad sexy! What's wrong with me??

Better #48 than #50.
posted by rtimmel at 12:16 PM on March 23, 2011


40 is this guy, probably with his wife and brother-in-law.
posted by dilettanti at 1:21 PM on March 23, 2011


Related discussion on Ask.
posted by Namlit at 1:33 PM on March 23, 2011


18 is apparently by Franz Fiedler from about 1922. Related photos here.

A bunch of these photos can be found here, with slightly more context.
posted by dilettanti at 1:48 PM on March 23, 2011


The wonderful 23 comes from drakegoodman, who has accumulated (and posted on Flickr) an amazing collection of WWI-era postcards and photos. I'd love more info on #2.
posted by dilettanti at 2:04 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Number 22 (sans gun) is kinda how i imagine Polly and Digory in "The Magicians Nephew"

Now I must reread that with that picture in front of me. Because it makes it all so much better than the rather E. Nesbitty version I had in my head.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:28 PM on March 23, 2011


People like to do silly things.
People like to take pictures of silly things.

All photos now explained.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 9:53 AM on March 24, 2011


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