Jul 19, 2009

Square America: The Beach

LA has been hit with a heat wave, so let's go to the beach!

I like this photo a lot. I like the bluntness with which the pair of shoes draw attention to the absence of their owner - assumedly the photographer. We are rarely this aware that we are peering over the shoulder of someone when we look at a photo.

The collector of found photographs does not just pick up anything at random. It's a deliberate, meticulous search for the accidental art. What makes the collector salivate can be a number of things; an artlessly artful composition, odd subject matter, unintended social commentary, an innocently staged cliche.

These square format color - and sometime BW - photos were common in the 1960's, but disappeared in the early 1970's. Some have date stamps, some don't. They must have been connected to a certain type of process or equipment, but I have not been able to find out anything about it.

If anyone can enlighten me on the subject, it would be greatly appreciated.

22 comments:

altadenahiker said...

I continue to be amazed that intimate family photos find their way into public domain. Take the top one, for instance. Most if not all these kids must still be alive -- why are they so careless with their memories?

Poke Salad Annie said...

that photo of the woman on the beach is so great! i love the expression on her face, and the perspective is such that the shoes almost appear abnormally large :) square america is one of my favourite sites.

AmyR said...

I think in the last photo they are digging for sand crabs. That's what I would be doing anyway.

I contemplated the beach today. Then realized so was everyone else and decided that the air conditioned house was okay.

Jean Spitzer said...

The last two photos look very much like illustrations for old magazine covers.

pasadenaadjacent said...

From Mr V who would know
The printing process is called a c-print from color negative film

I think the top two photos might have been from Newport Beach in California.

Vanda said...

PA, that's no help, C-print is too wide a definition. It's like saying that's a 4-door sedan, instead of 1998 Honda Civic. Most bw photos before, during and after this era, most color photos after - except polaroid - were rectangular, not square. There must have been a camera that became popular in the 60's that used this format, and of course there had to be film for it.

Vanda said...

I suspect the Kodak Brownie family of cameras and 120/220/620 film, but it would be nice to know something more specific.

Jennifer said...

I love these photos. Good work, friend!

Heather said...

I just want you to know that I love your square america. I can't wait to see more!

Margaret said...

Great post. I have some photos like this, and like you send around 1970 sometime they change. No more squares and white frames. I'm curious if you found out what is going on.

VM Sehy Photography said...

Cool post. My mom had a Brownie and has many photos like the color ones. However, I thought they came from her polaroid. I'm not sure of the model number, but it's the one before they come up with the instant cameras.

As far as the sudden shift in photo format, I think that comes from brand new technology winning out. The polaroids had the film that came out and you had to wait for two or three minutes and then you pulled off the cover and you could see your photo.
Which when you think about it, is cooler then a Brownie because you have to take that in for development.

Then Polaroid topped themselves when they came out with the instant cameras since the photo pops out and develops before your very eyes. That is too cool! And you don't have to wait at all. (OK, it took a couple of minutes, too, but you could watch the process happen.)

Add to that, the fact that the older Polaroid camera uses bulbs for the flash which were hot, whereas the instants had a built in flash, and I can see the switch happening. Also my parents bought me an instant camera for my birthday so I'm thinking they were cheaper as well.

Now, my mom did have photos developed, and I believe those did come from the Brownie and they had dates on them. I was about six to eight when this was going on so it's all fuzzy. I got the instant when I was 10, so there's another couple of years. I can tell you that my mom traded in her Brownie - gave it back to Kodak - for a new camera that wasn't worth the plastic it took to build it. So that may be what became of a lot of these cameras. Sigh.

Vanda said...

VM, my first thought along the same lines. Maybe because the square format is so strongly associated with Polaroid, at first I thought these were instant pictures too. But there are a number of clues pointing towards that they are not.

I have a Polaroid Land Camera that does pull-apart type of instant photo, but the format is rectangular, not square. More importantly, if you look at those type of photos at a sharp angle, there is a mark on the surface around the edges of the image area where the other layer was pulled off. Something completely missing from these photos.

In addition, when working with that process it is guaranteed that quite frequently the separation is not perfect, some of the emulsion comes off or gets smudged, especially around the edges. Of the hundreds of square photos I have, not one has that.

Overall, I'm pretty convinced that these were shot on negative and printed later. I wonder if the date stamp was applied at the time of shooting or printing, and why only some have it. I also noticed that bw ones have date stamp on the top edge, color ones on the side.

At this point my main suspect is the Kodak Brownie Star Series cameras. The timing fits, and it seems they all or most were shooting in square format. Some of those cameras are beautiful, your mom's could be a collectors item if she kept it.

VM Sehy Photography said...

Just one last comment on the subject. I talked to my mom and she said that it was the Polaroid she sent back. (She doesn't remember what happened to the Brownie.) She thought it was the Polaroid that had the date stamps on it. So I'm not for sure now either.

She said that they stopped making the film or had some sort of trouble with it. Then they asked people to send in their polaroids and they gave them an instant camera in return. So that may explain why the sudden drop off in photos of that type. She thought lots of people took advantage of that. That would also explain my b-day gift. I seem to recall my husband mentioned a similar attempt with the instant cameras. However, insurance companies wanted them to continue making the film and cameras as they use them for photo evidence in insurance cases. A)You can take the photo right then. B)You know it hasn't been altered in development or with Photo Shop. Pretty clever.

It does seem that Polaroid is a company that suffered from seeing a need, but not being able to figure out the technology that would fulfill it. Thus they got left behind in the digital age.

altadenahiker said...

Guess there weren't too many people on earth back then. Look at the empty beaches.

Vanda said...

Karin, you are right, it's odd.

Me said...

It's sort of like being transported back in time. I love looking at my old family photos similar to the ones present here.

Mesina said...

I love old photos, there is something in them beyond simply a glimpse in the past. It's just magical. Thank you for sharing these!

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Cafe Pasadena said...

Love your shutter-bugging in the old style.

pasadenaadjacent said...

I miss Square America

Diligent Daydreamer said...

Wonderful pictures...the shots all tell a story and it seems of simple times. Thanks for sharing

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