42 posts tagged weird old things
For whatever reason I’ve been sort of not super jazzed up on fashion lately? Maybe it’s winter blues (no snow but I still have to wear tights and 47 layers every day!? what is this!?) or maybe it’s that I’ve been busy with 18 other projects — but the good ole “fashion blogging universe” has just sort of been not keeping my attention super well this past month or so.
But! Let’s not be depressing! So instead of talking about my irritation at this (lies, I’ll just talk about it parenthetically! check it out! a bunch of old white dudes and a few token black guys and a lady or two! how interesting! and by interesting I mean “god how depressing is everything ever” but ANYHOW) let’s feel enthusiastic about lady photographers and how much I love New York, right?! As if I don’t post about these things enough! But these people seem obvious to me but maybe you have not encountered them before, so. Berenice Abbott!
Berenice Abbott’s “Changing New York" — her exhaustive collection of photos of New York in the 1930’s, the archives of which now live over at the NYPL — is awesome for all of the reasons we always love photos of New York in ages past, right? It’s part “Oh snap! That’s the Starrett Lehigh building! Once I totally bombed an interview at a studio there!” and part fascination at the things we don’t recognize; something both familiar and bittersweet about the things that are both the same despite the things that are different, like the persistent stark contrast of poverty and wealth, of new and old, that seems in so many ways to define this city.
There’s also the fact that while Abbott was known primarily for her photographs of New York (and a bunch of boring science stuff, like photographing balls in motion yaawwwwnnnn) those of us in on the joke can deduce pretty quickly what “lived with Djuna Barnes in the Village for a while” probably means. (Unsurprisingly, some of her photos are in that Hide/Seek show at the Brooklyn Museum that I still haven’t gone to because I suck but I’m going Thursday I swear!) Abbott’s portraits — of herself, of Barnes, Janet Flanner, Gertrude Stein, Edna St Vincent Millay, Betty Parsons, and more — can be read also as a not-so-subtle but still-unspoken record of queer identities in her era in New York and Paris. Cool!
Latest obsession: the Letterheady blog, an archive of the pre-email phenomenon of the elaborately branded letterhead. Like the kind you put into the typewriter to type a letter on? Instead of copy/pasting or dragging a logo into the header of some Word document and then slamming your head into a wall 47 times because the Illustrator file of the logo must have saved weird or something and the alignment is printing out all wacky and you can’t figure out what the flying fuck is wrong with it because IT LOOKS FINE ON THE SCREEN and it even looks fine when you saved it as a PDF and there’s NO REASON why it’s PRINTING wrong with the logo half off the page like this? Right, that. In that instance, there’s something weirdly therapeutic about being able to browse through the stationery belonging to everyone from Andy Warhol to Thomas Edison, Playboy to Marvel Comics.
Something oddly fascinating and eerie about this — 100 Abandoned Houses, documenting urban decay and abandonment in Detroit and the once-wealthy neighborhoods on its outskirts.
More things we know by now: I am, it seems, a completely incurable nostalgist for all things New York and something of a weird local history fetishist,. (Wait! We need to point out some greatest hits of my obsession! The jail on Ludlow for suffragettes! Lady pirates of the Hudson! The dangers of petticoats in snow! My undying love for Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang!) Naturally, the sketches, prints, and etchings of Australian-born artist Martin Lewis (apparently a friend of Edward Hopper, whom I’m always weirdly drawn to for similarly NYC-biased-reasons) cater pretty directly to that weakness.
Lewis’ drawings and etchings appeal to me so much, I think, because despite being from the 1920’s and 30’s, they still look so familiar to me — the stylishly dressed midtown crowds pushing against the wind, the angles of the street corners, the open fire hydrants on hot summer days — streetcars and cloche hats aside, this still looks pretty much like every day to me. But mostly I think it’s something about the quality of light and shadow he captures — on streets still busy at night, during a thunderstorm, at dusk on a fire escape — which I don’t really have much to say about other than that is is exactly how it looks here and this is how I think of this city, as mostly grey with extremes of light and shadow. Am I too grossly romantic? Either way, the images are pretty awesome.
I’m sorry, how cool are these? This summer I queued-to-post-but-didn’t (this is how this blog actually works, by the way, as if it was run by a CRAZY PERSON) KT Auleta’s hardcore-inspired spread with Tasha Tilberg from Twin Magazine, because it, I don’t know, felt weird and stylized and like too clean or something, and I felt like I was maybe only into it because they totally made her look like the girls I had crushes on in high school when I was going to craptacular NJ hardcore/emo shows before I actually knew that I had crushes on them and thought I just wanted their moshpit sweat/haircut in like a really intense way or something, and because the styling was just, like, how I dress on a daily basis anyhow.
SO here as a replacement half a year later, we can post these actual photos from the hardcore scene in NYC from the days before CBGB was a John Varvatos store, which are way more awesome than any Twin editorials anyhow. Also, the lady that took them supposedly ended up being in The Silence of the Lambs and Grey’s Anatomy? Oh, okay. More after the jump. [via SB+TVC]
The American Museum of Natural History was one of my favourite things EVER as a kid: I really, really liked dinosaurs and rocks (no, really, I was really into rocks), and also any excuse my parents had to take me into the city. As an adult it’s no less awesome, but the whole place seems vaguely like a giant decaying Hall of Colonialism, Native/Primeval/Primitive People In Glass Boxes, Strange and Outdated Dioramas, and Obsessive-Compulsive Nineteenth Century Taxonomy. What makes it even weirder is the contrast between parts of the museum - the Hayden Planetarium and parts of the dinosaur halls are all shiny glass and chrome complete with interactive computers and touch screens, whereas the Hall of Minerals, a strange multi-levelled mass of grey-carpeted stairs where the crystals are still labelled with typewriter-font-labels claiming they came from Yugoslavia and the USSR, apparently hasn’t changed at all since I first saw it sometime in the mid 80’s. Nor has the section on New York ecosystems, where the crumbling dried leaves, taxidermied woodland creatures, and dusty hand-stenciled dioramas complete with strange clay miniatures are set into pine-panelled walls next to hand-painted murals. The whole place somehow functions as a relic of weird old Americana without even trying to be, and I hope they never change it.
It also is basically a giant box of internet tumblr memes, like, uh, dark rooms full of triangles and crystals, dinosaurs, wood panelled walls, marginalization of brown people, weird animals, bizarre malproportioned watercolour/pastel/coloured pencil drawings of extinct weird animals, and gift shop kitsch. More photos after the jump.
I’ll admit it — I’ve kind of turned into a Person Who Watches Television after years of sort of having a high horse over sticking my nose in the air and making obnoxious comments about not having owned a television in yeeeaaaaaars. But amongst others (True Blood, Mad Men, and, um, Glee), HBO’s Scorsese-directed star-studded Boardwalk Empire has captivated me — secretly I’m kind of a big dork for period pieces (accurate or not) and I just can’t get enough of the architecture and clothes and even the advertisements against the backdrop of the Jersey shore in the 1920’s. Because, seriously, is there anyone who doesn’t grossly overromanticize the 20’s? You basically can’t go wrong.
Slick HBO dramas aside, Contexts recently put together a great little summary of some of the less obvious facts about life under prohibition - things like that wine was still somewhat legal, which in turn kicked off the wine industry in California, that speakeasies weren’t quite as secretive and glamorous as we’d like to think (damn!) and that alcohol could still be prescribed “medicinally.” (Whiskey for toothaches, plz.)
And of course, as it turns out, the LIFE archives are rife with photoessays of prohibition-era images, and the US Coast Guard even has a hilarious collection of images from their liquor patrol boats of the time period. And searching the Google-hosted LIFE image archive (ps this is my favourite thing ever basically) pulls up hundreds more images from the time period, and despite the historically less-than-glamorous facts, the photos are just as rich and stylish as HBO’s pricey reproduction. More images of both after the jump!
SO. My obsession with the LIFE Magazine archives has come up before, as well as my affinity for photos of white trash gangs of the 50s and 60s (how many times can I post Bruce Davidson photos?) Also I have recently become a Person Who Watches TV On The Internet after years of being a Person Who Does Not Watch TV And Makes Snarky Comments About People Who Do, which I feel medium-serious conflicted about, but either way amongst the TV I have been watching on the internet is Sons of Anarchy, so maybe I just secretly am into really badass motorcycle chicks and trashy clothes or something. SO IT IS NOT A SURPRISE that I basically peed myself over this formerly-unpublished photo story about Hells Angels in California in the mid-60’s. CAN WE PLEASE NOTE the a.) curlers and b.) broken nose above?!
More after the jump, and the full story (minus crappy watermarks from saving) here.
One of the most common questions I get on Formspring (aside from “do you eat/do you eat meat/how much money do you make/where do you find bras for small tits/where do you cut your hair/why and how are you queer/kill yrself plz”) usually involves something about how did you used to dress or how has your style changed or what did you used to look like zomgz. In conjunction with The Rejectionist’s call for embarrassing diaries of yore, I now present you with something ever so slightly tangentially related but perhaps shifted towards this blog’s content and my insatiable vanity: THIRTEEN OR SO YEARS OF MOSTLY TERRIBLE FASHION, also known as GPOYW taken to the extreme, also know as Too Many Photos of Me But It’s Kind of Hilarious and I Am Nostalgic So Maybe It’s Okay?
I was REALLY EXCITED about going to the first day of kindergarten clad in Minnie Mouse puff paint vomit with a vinyl messenger bag, a side braid held in place with a neon green scrunchie, and a shit-eating grin, if you can call that a grin. (Michael, however, at far left, seems to have perfected my current blog picture-face two decades before I did.)
But for serious: let us really begin sometime in the late 90’s when I was an unwashed acne-stricken socially inept pseudo-braniac pariah attending George Washington Junior High School generally regarded as a leper by her peers. We will begin in the eighth grade, at which point I first chopped off at least three feet of my formerly-for-my-whole-life-waist-length-blonde-hair and, hormone-ridden and despondent, demanded that my mother purchase me JNCOs, arguably establishing (or attempting to) a sense of “personal style” for the first time. Oh, joy!
Secret history geek that I am, I loved this little video with a brief history of the fashion industry and Fashion Week here in NYC, more than a little bit in comparison to the NYFW madness going on around me. I was psyched to see a video from a publication that addressed fashion history in terms beyond what the biggest designers sent down the runway and the richest, whitest women wore to the most public events; it’s easy for us to forget the sheer number of people participating in the fashion industry, the large majority of whom cannot wear any of the clothing actually produced, and also of the extent to which the development of an American fashion industry is closely intertwined with the development of both American and NYC identity and history, on all levels from labor organization to architecture.
Which got me thinking historically about things I’d forgotten — much of my family hails from Paterson, NJ, nicknamed the “Silk City” for its heavy silk an textile production in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and a huge percentage of my family worked in the textile and clothing industries in various ways, from working in the silk mills to working at the now-defunct Meyer Brothers department store, which is taking epic amounts of internet research to find anything about ANYWHERE, alas! (My grandfather is full of stories of working in the “dye-house,” as he calls it. He was probably, like, 14.)
And so: Lil’ history lesson after the jump! So you can stop looking at everyone’s iPhone shots of the runway for 10 minutes!
Thread for Thought pulls together another nifty little piece about fashion in literature (for more great ones: a series of posts detailing the history of cross dressing/drag, the politics and evolution of mannequins.)
I feel like I’ve (and half the internet, or at least half the internet I read) been beating the dead horse of Look Guys Fashion Is Relevant In A Lot of Ways And Is Like A Big Cultural Signifier of Different Stuff for ages now, but this stuff IS really interesting, I SWEAR, and in some ways somehow I’d never thought of the role that descriptions of clothing and style played in much of the fiction I’ve read in my life.
And while I tried to come up with several uber-highbrow examples here for you — that amazing painfully metaphorical passage about shopping for hats in Good Morning Midnight which is half the reason this blog is titled such! Nora’s dress crinkling in The Dead! probably something about class and femininity in Austen or the Brontes! anything ever about corsets and petticoats! something fascinating about costuming in Shakespeare! this essay about colourful fabrics marking alterity in drab, foggy, 16th century London which I loved to death when I had to read it senior year of college!
But somehow the first thing I could really come up with was this weirdly striking memory of reading The Little House on the Prairie series when I was in third grade or so and there being achapter in one of the books where the mother takes the girls to buy fabric for a new dress, and there’s something about floral muslin or something. I remember being completely baffled by the concept that people mother’s had to travel far to fabric stores to pick out fabric for a new dress, and also not understanding what the heck muslin was, but whatever it is (I know now, jeez) it’s firmly entrenched in my memory along with blind sisters, badgers, and houses made out of sod as a sole indicator of Americana and pioneer life.
Apparently in 1904, this was EXTREMELY RACY — ankles, oh noez!! This stuff fascinates me — both changing ideas of what is and isn’t risqué and the strange associations/double entendres of everyday activities. What’s the deal?
I’ve found lots of these mildly racy, early twentieth-century images of mending, and it isn’t that surprising. Associations between mending and sex are conventional and familiar from centuries of genre painting and portraiture: a woman looking at the work in her lap gives a man an opportunity to look at her; a female servant bent over her darning displays her hands or chest; an idle stitcher clearly has her mind on other things.
[More at Socimages.]
So what if I’ve posted about Bruce Davidson before? It’s been a while since I cranked out a good old-weird-New-York post (though here’s an old favourite of those. &2, &3, et al) and these images will basically never stop seeming representative of this city to me, those sort of photos that look like some idealized notion of your city’s history and seem almost fake in how dead-on they are in that way that all good photographs are, but then you realise that actually probably has a lot to do with your concept of NYC in the 50’s/60’s/70’s as being based entirely on iconic photographs and films like this to begin with, so of COURSE these pictures just look too good to be real, which is weird to think about, but I mean basically I just want my life to look like Brooklyn Gang all of the time.
Eline just posted this and I had to steal it since that “romanticizing weird old shit” fetish problem thing I have apparently isn’t just limited to New York — posters from a sealed-up-since-1959 metro tunnel in London (where I’ll be in a week! tell me all your secrets of amazing places to go/things to do there that I might not know about yet!) More pictures after the jump and the whole thing here.
1885 sketch of an ice cream cart (no Tasti-D or Mr. Softee?!?!?) and 1937 Weegee photo of summer on the LES, both via Ephemeral NY.