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Three Almost Random Vernacular Photographs

I’ve always been an admirer of vernacular photography. That being defined as travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Photography by the people and for the people, you might say. And, as I’ve aged, the power of this genre of photography has done nothing but be further enhanced by my own stories over time. After all, 90 percent of what we see in a photograph is what we bring to it as the viewer.

The first example (below) is a 1970s photograph of someone I knew rather well in an on/off roundabout villainous manner. On one occasion, totally randomly, on the day I was discharged from the Royal Australian Navy I sat on the plane beside this guy. He just had this way of popping up in my youth. Robert Jeffries died in, if I remember correctly, late 1993 along with someone else I knew quite well back in the day… so he’s long left the earth. Therefore I won’t talk about his villainy. That can rest.

Needless to say this photograph of Rob with a girl named Sylvia Skell (also deceased) is taken on the foreshore of the area of Northern Tasmanian coastline where I grew from a child to an adult. Within this vernacular photograph I can smell and feel the wind (drunken and sober); I have layered memories of these people across time; it’s much like Rebecca Solnit described in River of Shadows as the capture of space and time in a two dimensional frame. For me, at least, this is a powerful photograph.

The second photograph is a 1926 vernacular snapshot of a local guy named John Scott in 1926 with two of his friends at Christmas. They’re obviously enjoying a Summer’s day in his Austin Seven outside the Low Head shop. The country shop near the house that I grew up in and the shop where so many adventures of my youth began and ended. Again, I bring a lot of that to the photograph as the viewer.

The third photograph is a young guy named Graeme Payne on the last day of our High School year on the fence near the entrance to George Town High School. Graeme was a friend and fellow member of the George Town Boxing Club. The photograph was made by Allan Mills, another friend. Allan’s father was Des Mills, our boxing trainer. The textured invocations of a photograph can resound through space and time as much as the photograph is a time machine.

As I said in the beginning, vernacular photography is by the people for the people. Imagine how much things have changed for the average person since the introduction of photography. You can see your grandparents. People don’t just disappear anymore. Jethro and Sylvia are there, in the time machine. Captured in two dimensional record. And in earlier times the only people who had their faces remembered were the rich – the painted portrait.

I think we forget how amazing and unusual in human history these things around us might be. The camera. The aeroplane. The television and Internet. Warm beds, hygeine. Medicine. We live in the age of magic things. Complexities are abstracted away so that we can drive on highways and fly across continents. We can capture the images of our friends and families throughout their lives with our time machines, called cameras.

So, yes, I’m a big fan of vernacular photography. It’s given us an ongoing picture of the wider World that never existed in the minds of ordinary folk like ourselves. We live in the age of magic.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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