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 clichéd 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...