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40 Black and White Photos that Can't Be Explained
October 18, 2012 12:14 PM   Subscribe

40 Black and White Photos that Can't Be Explained (via)
posted by wittgenstein (84 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm straight convinced that a lot of the "vintage" photo weirdness that has started showing up on the internet with increasing frequency are 'shops. No pixelsicantellby, just a hunch.

That grasshopper "photo", for example.
posted by mediocre at 12:18 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eponysterical. "What the picture must have in common with reality in order to be able to represent it after its manner--rightly or wrongly--is its form of representation. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must post to buzzfeed."
posted by mister-o at 12:21 PM on October 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


the grasshopper has no shadow.
posted by royalsong at 12:21 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Came in for the grasshopper photo.

A swarm of those would fuck shit up, to put it mildly.
posted by flippant at 12:21 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is an old-timey version of Awkward Family Photos.
posted by Kokopuff at 12:22 PM on October 18, 2012


"Ho ho! I have found this weird photo which I am sure you will find entertaining because of its weirdness! Why on earth could it ever have been made? Who on earth would ever have found weirdness like this entertaining, thus prompting them to make this weird photo? That's just inexplicable! And entertaining!"
posted by yoink at 12:22 PM on October 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


Photo manipulation existed long before Photoshop.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 12:23 PM on October 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


"The world is even more awesomely interesting than any of our limited experience allows us to know and has always been that way."

BAM -- Explained!

But seriously, I love remembering that "fucking with the medium early in its invention" isn't necessarily a new thing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:23 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the good folks at Buzzfeed have a very different idea of "can't be explained" than I do.
posted by asnider at 12:24 PM on October 18, 2012 [24 favorites]


Yeah, the grasshopper one is just a joke postcard. I've seen it in tourist-trap shops here in Montana. I'm sure others exist with other state names. Much like this "I saw a fair-sized tout" postcard.
posted by The Deej at 12:27 PM on October 18, 2012


Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication.
posted by badstone at 12:27 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to read a novella that connects all these photos together as if they are actual depictions of reality.
posted by The Whelk at 12:28 PM on October 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


So, in the first photo, the painter has fallen asleep and his mischievous children have decided to take the opportunity to paint a face on his bald head.

The second photo is a humorous picture of a German shepherd with boxing gloves on his front paws standing on his hind legs across from a young boy in boxing gloves. It suggests the two are boxing, but the broad smile on the boy's face suggests he is having a difficult time taking it seriously.

The third photo appears to be a novelty tombstone.

I don't know, these all seem to be able to be explained.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:29 PM on October 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


Pikes Peak quickly became popular, and many people over the years found ways to travel to its summit. The U.S. Signal Service (an early Weather Bureau) built a telegraph station on the summit in 1873 to monitor the weather, and a guard was posted in Manitou at the beginning of the trail to collect a toll for hiking to the summit. On May 25, 1876, an interesting hoax was perpetrated by one of the soldiers and his wife who lived at the summit house when they claimed that their baby daughter had been eaten by giant rats! (Sgt. John O'Keefe had a vivid imagination- earlier he had claimed that Pikes Peak was erupting.).

Google, people.
posted by Kabanos at 12:30 PM on October 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Pics, or it didn't happen.

Oh....

guess it did.
posted by stormpooper at 12:30 PM on October 18, 2012


The grasshopper and the policeman hanging over the street both seem obvious manipulations, the vast majority of the rest are amusing photos but there are no unexplainable ones. Some of the "Shock" (or whatever) seems to be along the lines of " those people in the olden time could not have had an absurdest sense of humor like we do today!!!"

Sort of in line with the "every generation thinks it invented sex" observation.
posted by edgeways at 12:31 PM on October 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


God I am so sick of hastily-assembled, contextless listicles.

Excuse me, I mean "1 Thing Horace Rumpole is Sick Of".
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:32 PM on October 18, 2012 [28 favorites]


the grasshopper has no shadow.

Lucky for us that he got shot, then.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:33 PM on October 18, 2012 [45 favorites]



the grasshopper has no shadow.

the grasshopper lies heavy
posted by The Whelk at 12:33 PM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm straight convinced that a lot of the "vintage" photo weirdness that has started showing up on the internet with increasing frequency are 'shops. No pixelsicantellby, just a hunch.

That grasshopper "photo", for example.


The terms "masks" and "layers" predate Photoshop, you know.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:36 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:38 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


#39: Gesundheit?
posted by workerant at 12:38 PM on October 18, 2012


In photo 27 clearly one gentleman has slapped his cock on the table and invited two friends to peruse it; this was a common parlour game of the Victorian era.
posted by Abiezer at 12:39 PM on October 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


Some of these can be explained. I'm just sayin'.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:39 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do kind of like the crow one (last one) though
posted by edgeways at 12:40 PM on October 18, 2012


Bunny. Also, a picture of Zoot and Dingo.
posted by maxwelton at 12:40 PM on October 18, 2012


I can explain them all: The idea of being humorous, weird or having people on for amusement is not new.
posted by cccorlew at 12:40 PM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah googling can explain many of these. Number 19 is a modern photo (thank goodness!) by Stephen Berkman, using 19th-century methods.
posted by gubo at 12:41 PM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Every one of these is an album cover waiting to happen.
posted by resurrexit at 12:43 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


The grasshopper and the policeman hanging over the street both seem obvious manipulations

The policeman is a standard photo trick, it has been used for ages. He really is hanging from a girder, but it's not hanging out over Times Square. The photo is cropped so you can't see he's safely hanging about 10 feet off the roof.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:43 PM on October 18, 2012


Huh. And here I just liked all of the interesting old photos showing me that the world is a more bizarre place than I thought.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:46 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Previously
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:47 PM on October 18, 2012


Johnny B Sart would say that they need no explanation.

posted by mmrtnt at 12:48 PM on October 18, 2012


Okay, I now have a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald in his backyard holding a rifle and a giant grasshopper. It explains everything. Or it will, once I fix the shadows.
posted by sageleaf at 12:49 PM on October 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm straight convinced that a lot of the "vintage" photo weirdness that has started showing up on the internet with increasing frequency are 'shops.

Nah. That kind of stuff was pretty common back then, as it is today. It was a way for photographers to show-off their darkroom and retouching prowess. People had serious mad skilz long before Photoshop happened.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:51 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


40 Black and White Photos That Confirm People Were Having Fun Even If They Never Smiled In Black and White Photos.
posted by orme at 12:51 PM on October 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


"can't", or SHOULDN'T?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:51 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to read a novella that connects all these photos together as if they are actual depictions of reality.

It's been done, sort of. It was amusing.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
posted by MrVisible at 12:52 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Photo manipulation existed long before Photoshop.

Indeed it did.

It's so cute that so many folks think photo altering and quirky humor began with the Internet / home computer age.
posted by aught at 12:53 PM on October 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


Man Ray is the godfather of the internet.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:56 PM on October 18, 2012


MrVisible, I was just going to recommend that same book.
posted by KathrynT at 12:56 PM on October 18, 2012


People have been doing goofy shit and photographing it since there was photography.
posted by tommasz at 1:02 PM on October 18, 2012


Viral advertising for year two of American Horror Story.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:03 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In photo 27 clearly one gentleman has slapped his cock on the table and invited two friends to peruse it; this was a common parlour game of the Victorian era.

This game has been gentrified into "Hungry, Hungry Hippos."
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:03 PM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I enjoy seeing examples of people just joking around in the past. It humanizes.

#38 is just a proto-plushie, though.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 1:05 PM on October 18, 2012


It was a way for photographers to show-off their darkroom and retouching prowess.

Not necessarily. Early in the history of photography, there was one school of thought that photos should always be manipulated, otherwise they were just boring reality. It should have possibilities beyond painting, which could show pretty much any scene the painter could imagine. So photomontage was considered the state of the art.

People had serious mad skilz long before Photoshop happened.

People still have mad skilz without Photoshop. I still claim that anything Photoshop can do, can also be done without digital tools. Although some analog techniques may be difficult to the point of impracticality, they are still possible.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:08 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I want to read a novella that connects all these photos together as if they are actual depictions of reality.

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. Make your own dreams come true.
posted by NoraReed at 1:16 PM on October 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Exaggeration postcards were a thing.
posted by zamboni at 1:16 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man Ray is the godfather of the internet.

Mapplethorpe, surely.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:16 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


16 is awesome.
posted by drezdn at 1:17 PM on October 18, 2012


Love 22, too.
posted by drezdn at 1:18 PM on October 18, 2012


You can't explain that: Gathering of the Juggalos #1
posted by LordSludge at 1:21 PM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The first one is easy.

It's clear that the Mad Painter is a recurring human theme.
posted by plinth at 1:22 PM on October 18, 2012


listicles.

A minor deity, the bearer of Zeus's clipboard.
posted by zippy at 1:28 PM on October 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


What, no jackalope?
posted by humboldt32 at 1:40 PM on October 18, 2012


Does it say anything about my generation when I unconsciously include "physical manipulation of analog photographs" under the umbrella of the term "photoshopped"? I was really quite confused by many comments in this thread...
posted by muddgirl at 1:41 PM on October 18, 2012


This is darkroom chicanery. I can tell from the airbrush strokes in the film grain and from having seen many fine examples of darkroom chicanery in my time.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:44 PM on October 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Inexplicable? I don't think so.

It was common for early photographers to keep an array of gag props on hand. Many of these photos can be explained by this simple fact--the two women seeking husbands or #36. It was also common for the photographer to arrange little tableaux, since at the time just taking the photograph was a pretty big deal--so might as well make the most of it (1, 5, 28 and 29 for example).

That grasshopper thing has been around forever, it's an old postcard.

#10 was probably shot for a fakir to capture his best trick; #13 and #31 doubtless depict other (circus? vaudeville?) performers.

Anything with a painted backdrop was shot in a photographer's studio (#1, 5, 9, 13, 14, 17, 28, 31, 39) and was set up.

All that said, I'd love to know more about #3, and #12 clearly depicts the logistical issues presented when fashion exceeds practicality.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:44 PM on October 18, 2012


Whole lotta album covers right there.

I'm on it.
posted by dbiedny at 1:58 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kinnakeet,

For more about #3, see Kabanos' comment.
posted by arkham_inmate_0801 at 2:05 PM on October 18, 2012


Here, I can explain most: gin.
posted by theredpen at 2:06 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get it, all of these are perfectly explicable. For instance, there are several pictures of me doing the exact same thing as #4, including top hat and high boots (my dog serves the place of the pig-horse thing whose name escapes me at the moment). And my brother was eaten by mountain rats, that's not funny.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:27 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you'll find that these pictures are completely inexplicable unless God exists. Account for that with your 'Darwinist evolution' if you can. Hah!
posted by Segundus at 2:30 PM on October 18, 2012


We must have blundered into a dark age of technology. Clearly, people back in the day had some aetheric chromograph distributor with which to broadcast these delightful set ups.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:59 PM on October 18, 2012


i for one found #36 to be quite humerus
posted by elizardbits at 3:06 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


#32: Really hungry meat eater.
posted by HyperBlue at 3:11 PM on October 18, 2012


Mileages vary. I know people who have (seemingly) 4000 pictures on Facebook, all of which seem to be three or four people in a bar grinning self-consciously for the camera. I cannot explain that.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:14 PM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've seen 37 before- possibly in an ancient Life magazine? It's a real photo of a live stork whose feet were missing for some reason that I no longer remember. Googling anything with the word "stork" just brings up tons of baby related stuff.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:52 PM on October 18, 2012


It saved two children from a motorcycle?
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:00 PM on October 18, 2012


#38: Furry porn.
posted by Mcable at 5:23 PM on October 18, 2012


#38: Furry porn.

or from Burton's unexpurgated Arabian Nights.
posted by ovvl at 5:38 PM on October 18, 2012


I want to read a novella that connects all these photos together as if they are actual depictions of reality.

Me too. But in the mean time, we'll have to live with Wisconsin Death Trip.
posted by ovvl at 5:45 PM on October 18, 2012


Not all the grasshopper cards are convincing.
posted by unliteral at 6:34 PM on October 18, 2012


There's a straighforward explanation for a lot of these, which also applies to a lot of 1930's era "news of the weird" newsreels. Turns out they came from stringers, and stringers only got paid when they came up something that got used.

So it came to be that some stringers got into the business of creating pictures or film which their employers would want, by convincing people to do crazy things, or by image manipulation of various kinds.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:46 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's so cute that so many folks think photo altering and quirky humor began with the Internet / home computer age.

Yup. Those exaggeration photos have been around forever. I have giant potato and riding the gigantic jackalope postcards that Mr. Bluehorse's granddad sent when he was a tod.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:57 PM on October 18, 2012


The URL makes it pretty clear that at some point this had the much more reasonable title "Old Photos that Need More Information" but someone else must have dipped in and worked that old BuzzFeed clickbait magic on the title.
posted by Partial Law at 7:45 PM on October 18, 2012


On the dog boxing: Boxing With Dog "20th September 1926: Ralph Miller spars with 10-month old 'Battling Von', a member of the Melford Kennels AC of Los Angeles." From Worthpoint - "Boy Boxes Dog: 'Battling Van', a German Shepherd Police Dog. An original bookplate print, matted and ready for framing, 'Battling Van', a ten month-old German Shepherd, went four rounds with little Ralph Miller during a mock West Coast Juvenile Police Dog Welterweight Championship ... the match was declared a draw. Approximately 4" x 3.5", taken in 1926 this photo-plate has been removed from an old book about famous dogs."
posted by unliteral at 8:02 PM on October 18, 2012


Every single one of these seems to be explainable under the rubric "people in the past actually had senses of humor."

I gather some people won't believe it - 'my god, for what purpose would they put boxing gloves on a dog?' - but it's true.
posted by koeselitz at 8:12 PM on October 18, 2012


b1tr0t: "Man Ray is the godfather of the internet."

backseatpilot: "Mapplethorpe, surely."

Yes, that's it, obviously. Man Ray is the godfather of Mapplethorpe.
posted by koeselitz at 8:17 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another 50 Unexplainable Black & White Photos.
posted by homunculus at 10:24 PM on October 18, 2012


the grasshopper has no shadow

And the man who tried to kill it with bullets is celebrating a triumph both false and brief.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:22 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, the first one is incredibly easy to explain so I'm not that convinced by the premise.
posted by Decani at 1:23 AM on October 19, 2012


Isn't this the "Nightmare Fuel or Decemberists Album Cover" Tumblr?
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 3:29 AM on October 19, 2012


I want to read a novella that connects all these photos together as if they are actual depictions of reality.
There was a novel based on a similar idea of unexplained photos: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. And soon it will be a Tim Burton movie.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:06 AM on October 21, 2012


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