the world in black and white
April 23, 2013 8:28 AM   Subscribe

There are a lot of people scanning and posting vintage photographs to the Internet. A lot.

Flickr remains one of the larger repositories, with many groups and thousands of scans. It's also worth digging into individual users' photosets. There seems to be an inexhaustible supply.

Meanwhile, Tumblr is catching up, with people posting the contents of family albums, their own collections, and things that catch their eye. Not to mention the odd single-purpose Tumblrs-- I have no idea how these people got their cats wedged into their vintage photos, or why.

And of course, there's always Shorpy.
posted by nonasuch (44 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
This is awesome. I have been scanning family photos from the last 120+ years and sharing with the rest of my family. While I am not much for looking into the past, it is fascinating to see how it all connects.
posted by jason says at 8:32 AM on April 23, 2013

This is great, the Singularity will have a strong sense of the recent history of it's enslaved population.
posted by sammyo at 8:32 AM on April 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Surely it don't matter if it's black or white?

/Forgive me.
posted by Mezentian at 8:34 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

jason, I scanned about 400 of my family's old photos so my mother could tag them with names, since otherwise that information would be lost on a lot of the photos. I ended up getting books printed with 50 or so of my favorites, and giving them to less-computer-savvy relatives, and they were delighted to have them.

I also buy vintage photos pretty regularly at flea markets and estate sales, and have a collection of instant ancestors on my wall. I didn't include them here, but I scan and post found photos pretty often, most recently to to Tumblr. That was what got me started on this post.
posted by nonasuch at 8:38 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had to hide my historical family albums on Flickr. The pictures of my great aunts in panty hose from the late 50s kept getting favorited by people with, uhhh, an odd assortment of intentions. My family would visit to snag originals on occasion (for printing) and see the activity listed below... It led to some uncomfortable email exchanges.
posted by DigDoug at 8:38 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

a polaroid i found while snooping around an old, abandoned apartment complex.

And so began the scariest story ever told in the history of time.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:38 AM on April 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

And so began the scariest story ever told in the history of time.

My latest favorite at Flickr!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:41 AM on April 23, 2013

Most of these "found photos" are probably still Copyright (never published, never registered works are life of author + 70), but they are also orphaned works.
posted by stbalbach at 8:43 AM on April 23, 2013

Love it.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:47 AM on April 23, 2013

Well, you can find anything nowadays, so found, anonymous photos are a novelty.
posted by Halogenhat at 8:47 AM on April 23, 2013

It's amazing how interesting and beautiful these old family photos can be. Over on Metachat, it's common for users to post links to family photos. I posted my parents' 1962 wedding album myself once. The realization that there was only one copy of the album rather alarmed me (God knows where the negatives are that this point) and so I made sure that those images will be preserved in the event of a house fire, and once I had them scanned in I wanted to share them. And like I teased Mum and Dad Swan at the time, it must be gratifying to think you've been married so long that your wedding photos are a historical artifact.;-)
posted by orange swan at 8:53 AM on April 23, 2013

I scanned a bunch of old photos my mother had in a falling apart album of her side of the family from way back, and then had them printed in a book for her siblings. I still have very little clue who they are all, she knew off hand though. I had always seen that album around but never really put much thought into it.

This is something i love about the digital age we live in, while there may be a ton of photos of crap, you have things like this that mean you can share them and remember better, and the photos just don't end up at random antique shops. I've bought a bunch at places like that, but i'd like to hope they take on a new life online.
posted by usagizero at 8:57 AM on April 23, 2013

Well, you can find anything nowadays

Actually, thanks to the internet, where anyone and his cousin can go and learn about the value of things at a glance, there's actually a metric fuck ton of stuff that you can't find anymore, or, rather, that you can't afford if you do find it.

Example (and link to Flickr!) here's a vintage early percussion contraption from the 1930s that I own and use quite a bit. It's the predecessor of the modern day hi-hat. It was called the snowshoe. I bought it for 10 bucks at a New York City flea market back in the 80s. There wasn't any internet then that people could go to to check on stuff like this. Got it for 10 bucks. Learned on the internet just recently that the same model, same vintage (they were only made for a brief period, a few years only) sold for almost 700 dollars.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:01 AM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

My wife just revealed the family trove the other day as we were looking for some shots of her as a teenager, because I'd hardly seen any. Her dad shot... oh... 5000 slides? and there's a ton of family stuff going back to the 1890's. I could scan non-stop for a couple years before I'd digitized her whole collection.

I'm glad this stuff is making it online, prsonally.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:03 AM on April 23, 2013

Another reason to scan ones photos (and documents) is when I hear that a persons home was destroyed along with all their family photos. When if they had scanned them and put them somewhere via the web/cloud at least they would have them to view/print.
posted by robbyrobs at 9:03 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, flapjax, the bottom has dropped out of the vintage book market, because everyone can go online to compare prices and get the best deal. It's really only the rarest items that have shot up, or the ones that are currently in vogue.

And actually, you can still find deals in person-- I see vintage panoramic photos go for $80-120 apiece online, most of the time. I own four, and never paid more than $30 for any of them. Craigslist is surprisingly useful for this.
posted by nonasuch at 9:08 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been doing this for a while now.
posted by pjern at 9:09 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

My wife just scanned about 400 slides my father shot between the late 50's and mid 70's. I'm in love with this photo of my mother.
posted by davebush at 9:14 AM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I scanned a few photos I have of my dad's family a while back, in part hoping to get more information on the military uniforms. Somewhere in my parents house is a treasure trove of more photos, because my grandfather was a hard-core amateur photographer. I'd love to get them all scanned and posted someday.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:16 AM on April 23, 2013

My mother has been scanning photos right and left for the past few years, thanks to her work on our family's genealogy. My own favorite: great-great-great-grandpa Lewi. (Incidentally, we're the living embodiment of Uncanny Family Resemblance: my uncle is a dead ringer for Lewi, and somebody recently recognized me from the photograph of my gg-grandmother Chaia in my blog sidebar.)
posted by thomas j wise at 9:17 AM on April 23, 2013

Holy crud, I could waste all day on the vintage cats & people tumblr. I'm such a sucker for little kids with enormous grumpy-looking cats.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:21 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of us doing this. I am fond of this one I found. Easter Sunday, 1956. Probably somewhere in North Carolina since I bought it in Charlotte.
posted by zzazazz at 9:35 AM on April 23, 2013

Whenever we're in one of those restaurants decorated with random vintage photos, my family and I discuss destroying all of ours at death -- who'd want to end up on the wall of a Cracker Barrel for eternity?
posted by asperity at 9:37 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hah, I'm also a scrounger of vintage photos to scan and put up on Flickr, as well as working with my sister to put up some of the carousels full of slides my father shot and the family albums. Scroll through and see if you can spot my evidence that David Boreanaz is an actual, long-lived vampire!
posted by PussKillian at 9:39 AM on April 23, 2013

This post has inspired me to scan some of my old photos and share them. Has anyone found these photos useful when doing genealogical research?
posted by ElleElle at 10:04 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been doing this for a while now.

Wow, your mom was a stunner. Those are great.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:13 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm such a sucker for little kids with enormous grumpy-looking cats.

The Underpants Monster* - that little girl bears an eerie resemblance to my niece, serious eyes and all. If my cat were more amenable to being held, I would be tempted to restage that photo with her.

posted by louche mustachio at 10:18 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is the only thing I've actually gotten online from the old collection, so far. The wife's great aunt was a teacher at that school in the 20's & 30's. "View all sizes" for original at 6964 x 2021.

I've spent a lot of time looking at those faces & wondering about their lives.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:19 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Welp, this is the best thread ever on metafilter.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:34 AM on April 23, 2013

It turns out that my wife's dad took a really good (slide) photo of Waylon Jennings at a show in 1974 -- I'm not sure what to do with it, though. I scanned it a few days ago, but haven't uploaded it. Not sure if the copyright is hers free & clear, or if his estate will have problems with it being published or printed/sold.

I have a whole folder's worth of scans pictures from Panama when her dad was in the army in the 50's as well -- I should go ahead & get some of this stuff up on flickr I suppose.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2013

Wow. This is something that I didn't realize that I have to do until right now.
posted by Splunge at 10:45 AM on April 23, 2013

The set linked under the word "individual" is particularly fascinating. Picture of a family in Budapest in 1936, mother looks 25. Same family in 1942: mother and father look ancient as hell.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:56 AM on April 23, 2013

There's an interesting story that goes along with this picture:
I found these photos and a bunch more when I was exterminating this abandoned apartment. All these pictures were just thrown around the floor and about to get thrown away. I remember seeing this man, the one seated with the child, there the month before. He was just staring out the window in a daze. I think he had Alzheimer's. I'm almost positive these were all his and they were just tossed like they were garbage. I picked them all up and put them in an envelope and saved them. I'm sure he's dead now and none of his family even remembers these pictures. It's so sad cause these are truly amazing photos from a man that cared about his family and cared about photography.
posted by compartment at 11:10 AM on April 23, 2013

You, sir. I am laughing at YOU.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:12 AM on April 23, 2013

I actually have my own ancestor set at Flickr, mainly because there are several people in various photos who are not identified and I hope that people searching for mutual ancestors might come across them and be able to tag them. I put up as much info as I have (any possible family names, dates, places).

(I guess this doesn't count as self-linking?)

Actually one thing I'm considering now is that I have dozens of tapes that we are putting into digital format, of phone conversations between my mom and my dad when he was abroad. They are adorable, and he even had her tape the evening news audio (Walter Cronkite!) for him on occasion. I have all these digitial files, I'd like to put them online (well, the ones that aren't naughty, geez mom and dad, so embarrassing) or somewhere as a sort of historical document. But I haven't figured out the best way. Mostly because the tapes are degrading, hard drives can get stolen or disappear, and I'd like to know they won't be totally lost.
posted by emjaybee at 11:18 AM on April 23, 2013

Wow, your mom was a stunner. Those are great.

Now you know where I got my good looks. NOT :)

Thanks :)
posted by pjern at 11:42 AM on April 23, 2013

A number of years ago I became intently fascinated with the genealogy of my father's side of the family. I began to uncover things that had been forgotten to be passed down from my father's father and in the process, I established communications with a great-aunt whom I had never met and hardly knew existed. As a result of this friendship, she one day stated, "Why my Uncle (the local historian), had borrowed a bunch of family photographs and forgot to give them back. They've been at my sister's since they survived the burning of the homeplace. I'll get them for you." Incidentally, her uncle had forgotten to return them for decades.

I was not expecting much when I arrived at her home, to meet her for the second time, and was shocked when she dropped a plastic bag bulging with cabinet photographs and images from eighty years to over a century ago in age. I recognized few, if any of the faces, and so many of them were simply strangers whom I was connected to purely by the blood in my veins or associations with the aforementioned relatives. Yet, many of them were fascinating, if in what they presented as very different from today's casual approach to photographs or to ways in which they could have been taken yesterday. With the help of another Great-Uncle and other family members, I was able to identify more of them, but at least half will likely remain unidentified forever.

Another series of family photographs were salvaged from the family homestead, a simply farm house located in a hollow in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, left to ruin by the children of the man whose wife had manipulated her dying and dementia suffering father-in-law to make a death bed change to the will. Scattered across the floor, in and under, other things that vandals had thrown haphazardly about the room, were photos which ranged from a hundred years ago to negatives taken by my great-grandmother of things she thought important, from my father as a child to the funeral of his mother when she passed in childbirth a couple years later.

It was in the unconditioned upstairs bedroom, in the heat of a humid Virginia August afternoon, which blinded and stung my eyes with sweat and made the very glue that held my boots to their sole melt into comical flappiness, that I dug and searched for one image after another. There was my father, and there was my great-grandmother in an intimate moment, paused in the midst of spring cleaning with her hair under a handkerchief, my great-uncle in his uniform about to be sent to Italy to fight the Germans, and there, the sad discovery of a cabinet photo torn in half by a vandal, compounded by the fact that it was the bottom half that was found.

None the less, in the hotness of the day, ignoring the sour stench of raccoon feces which covered the hallway floor outside the room (for a pair of raccoons had been seen coming and going through the upstairs window - making their own residence in the abandoned one), I, and my accompanying father, scoured the room. We wore rubber gloves to protect from contact with mouse droppings and to help with those moments when a spider or some other creepycrawley might leap onto a finger or fall from the excited grab of a photograph. I am exceptionally proud of the old family photos we found that day, as the farmhouse continues to fall into ruin. The farmhouse grew from a two room cabin in increments of rooms and floors, porches and steps, into a home of many memories. While someday it will vanish either under the weight of nature's reclamation of land cleared centuries ago or by the callous disregard of its owners, those memories will be preserved in the photos that were saved that day. In short, these old photographs contain so much more than simply faces in black and white, so much more.

And here's an image from that batch my Great-Aunt returned to me from her uncle.
posted by Atreides at 11:56 AM on April 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Atreides, that is an epic post. Families contain so much drama that we seldom ever know about.
posted by emjaybee at 12:08 PM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

love this.

I've been making (silver gelatin) prints of my great-grandfather's negatives, and my great-great grandfather's negatives. I've also been scanning my family's slides. I particularly like this one of my grandmother at the beach in the rockaways in the 1950s, this one of my great uncle and a sweet bicycle (Bronx, 1950s), and my great-grandfather wearing a fedora like champ (probably 1950s).

Finding his photos years after he passed away has been fascinating. It's a glimpse into an entire life I never would have seen.
posted by inertia at 12:29 PM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

internet k hole {NSFW}
posted by exlotuseater at 1:57 PM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I realized in my previous comment that I only linked to the smaller collection of found photographs (if "bought in various antique malls" counts as found, which I guess it does) but didn't link to some of the fruits of the mad scanning project my sister and I have been up to. Those are all over here and feature things like my mom and her siblings in their bahay cubo, a few photos from my dad's brief time in Vietnam, street scenes in Singapore, and me in a ridiculous hat with some ducks.
posted by PussKillian at 6:48 PM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a different vintage cat tumblr I'm rather fond of.

Another very interesting project along these lines is HistoryPin.
posted by shenderson at 12:18 AM on April 24, 2013

Cool photos PussKillian. The Vietnam photos are like your own personal history book / old National Geographic. I like how the hat, blocking the face, makes it seem almost like a punishment. "Because you spilled the milk, put the hat on and go feed the ducks until you understand what you did wrong."
posted by Atreides at 9:56 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

The photo was taken in the Botanic Gardens in Singapore. I don't remember it, but my dad used to tell a long, elaborate story of the day the GIANT BLACK SWAN ATTACKED. Apparently the swan hopped out of the pond behind me and I didn't notice until he started grabbing the bread in my hand. Cue screaming.
posted by PussKillian at 2:47 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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