Thursday, 17 November 2011

Coz there were better times...

So a couple of days ago, I stumbled upon the The Commons, a visual effort dedicated to showcasing hidden treasures in the world's public photography archives. The site offers a rare glimpse into ancient photographs from all over the world at varying points in time.

Now I've mentioned before, my utter fascination with history and old photographs. I love history for so many reasons but mostly because I believe that while life was very difficult for most people back then, there was a quality and a beauty in the simplicity of life that the world has lost forever and we are worse off for it. I love old photographs for a similar reason - those timeless moments captured forever in print.

I could quite literally get lost in a never ending reverie, so this site really kept me completely occupied for quite a while. I found the colour photos particularly intriguing. It's a weird thing we do when we imagine the past. The what-once-was of life often emerges our consciousness in hazy depictions, faded black and white images.

It's almost like we unconciously envisage and perceive the past to have existed on another plane or dimension - one completely alien and foreign to our own realities. So looking at the colour photos was a bit of a shock. The reality of the past was so real. Maybe we've watched too many Hollywood movies depicting a certain animated perfection that we've created these false realities in our minds. After all, not everyone's hair was perfectly slicked into place. The photos look like they could have been taken in the present and the people in them look like they were playing dress-up: 
Vermont State Fair, USA ~ 1939

A student at Polytechnic High School, Los Angeles, California ~ September 1942

Rockefeller Plaza, New York ~ March 1943

Karnak, Egypt ~ 1900

Perhaps our ideas of the past are more flawed than we ever cared to realise. Here are a few of my favourite photos - in that clich├ęd hazy, faded black and white veneer:
Painter in Dublin ~ June 1932

Chicago ~ 1893

Two Dillon sisters & one Crofton brother in the garden of Clonbrock House, Galway ~ 1 November 1864

Quinta de Manhufe, Amarante, Portugal ~ 1918

Workmen on a girder at the Rockefeller Centre ~ 1932

New York ~ 1927

Soldiers ~ 1941

People on the streets celebrated at the news of the end of World War 2, VJ Day ~ 14 August 1945

I often wonder, if they could see us now what would they think? Would the state that the world is currently in come as a tremendous shock to our ancestors? I'm sure every generation, at some point in time thought it was "The End" for them, so to speak. So I can just imagine the relief felt by all in the last pic... the announcement that the war (WWII) was over, that life could return to normal, that there was renewed hope and that better times awaited - after what was certainly a horrific time for most of the world. And I wonder if the world will ever feel that kind of relief and hope ever again...


  1. Extraordinary.. love that!

  2. That 'workmen on girder' photo would give a baboon vertigo. That's one sight you'd never expect to see today...well not in America.

  3. Thanks For The Link To Commons.Yes! I Share Your Love Of Old Photos Too!+ What A Fine Blog You Are Making! Regards,Tony.

  4. The photos are amazing!
    I love looking at old ones too.

  5. Love the pics Azra.
    I must have been 5 or 6 when I first heard my Gran use the phrase "The end of the world is near." She's told me so every year since then. I imagine her mom and her Gran did the same to her.
    Slightly off topic, I've recently started on a project where I've taken old family pics, had them framed and then placed all over my home. Thankfully I have sufficient wall space to turn my home into a mini-musuem of photographs, so to speak. The older generation including my mom were aghast on their first visit. Something about pictures depicting people not being acceptable for display in their books.

  6. I loved the colorized views as well! As to the b&w photos, I've seen Workmen on a girder at the Rockefeller Centre ~ 1932 before and every single time I see it I get a sick feeling in my stomach. Just the idea of them being so far up and un-tethered scares me to see!

  7. I love old photos like these, nostalgia swells up in my chest and takes over. I can't explain it either, especially since I didn't live in a lot of those eras. On the contrary, pictures of the eras I DID live in make me giggle. The fluorescent 80s clothing, the shoulder pads from the 90s. Love it. Photography is such a lovely art and way to capture moments in time, isn't it?

  8. anonblog
    Glad you liked 'em!

    Thanks lady :)

    I know. It makes me nauseous too. I still think it's quite impressive.

    Thanks for visiting :) Yeah LOVE old photos.

    I want to search for more, a variety perhaps;)

    It's true, every generation thought they were the last. I still can't help thinking that with all the crap going on in the world, we're the closest to it actually happening. Who knows...

    I know what you mean. I'm afraid of heights and often suffer from vertigo when I'm a few feet from the ground. It's still such a spectacular photo - I wonder what was life like back then...

    It is a lovely way to capture moments in time. My only wish is that they had cameras back in the time of Zeus or Cleopatra etc. It would make for fascinating viewing :)

  9. I love everything that's old - from cheese to jokes to my own shadow. The funny thing about history is it will forever show us how little we have learned.