“A photograph is usually looked at- seldom looked into.”
The prompt photo is from the Farm Security Administration photo collection—170,000 photos depicting American life from the mid-thirties to the start of WWII. You can wander through the images here.
The half-wrecked camera he's using looks doubtful but I guess it worked. I asked Jim, my brother-in-law and camera collector, what kind of camera it is.
"Not sure. Pre-Polaroid street vendor/photogs used heavily reconfigured Graflex cameras, or others, many of which were modified to produce a tintype up through circa 1940. The rear 50% of the camera box was where he processed the print. Probably some wet plate process that dried easily. The cameras looked like junk but worked OK for their street vendor purpose. I bought an incomplete one to scrap out for parts I needed a few years ago when restoring a rather fine high end SLR Graflex ? ? ? ? ?"
Then he sent this:
This direct-positive camera with attached developing tank was marketed to street, or itinerant photographers. It produced photographic postcards on 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 inch direct-positive paper. The Mandelette and similar street cameras were portable and compact outfits. Due to their built-in processing capability, street photographers could offer the public inexpensive finished photographs on-the-spot.
Street cameras with integrated processing allowed photographers to avoid the expense and complication of maintaining a fixed business establishment. Studio photographers needed to attract the public to their place of business. Advertising was a necessary expense. In contrast, street photographers approached the public. Many street photographers simply stood on busy sidewalks with their camera, tripod and sample photographs on display. The more lucrative locations were beaches, fairs, rodeos - places where people were relaxed, having fun, ready to spend a small sum on impulse purchases, and open to the idea of taking home a remembrance of their good times.
Was our photographer also a cook? The stained apron leads me to guess that he probably was. I can imagine him on the cookline flipping hamburgers and making sandwiches. When somebody wanted a photo they'd likely pop inside and request a picture. The cook would wipe his hands on his apron and turn into a photographer, just like that. Did he have two hats–one for cooking and one for photography? The hat he's wearing is perfect for him. It frames his face with just the right amount of brim. Of course, the white in contrast with his skin color is beautiful. The hat looks well used with a little wear on the brim and on the crown.
You wonder what the photographer felt about having his own photo taken and saved for posterity. Notice his facial expression (is he amused or wary?) and the 3/4 pose, which is frequently used for portraiture. Standing between the restaurant and the camera, he's captured bridging his two worlds. I hope he was flattered and I certainly hope he was given a copy of the photo.
Looking at the sweet paper frames he used for his display, I guess again (this is all a game of imagination) that he chose the most artistically pleasing frame he had available for each image. I wonder what he could have done with the incredible photo editing software we have today?
The below photo is of ME eight years ago looking through one of Jim's cameras; it's the only image I could find that matched the prompt. I have to confess I've used it before so it's hardly fresh. But I used the incredibly simple, free, Google Pixlr Editor to add a sepia filter, a kaleidoscope filter, and a posterizing filter and make it a little more interesting. Every time I use these filters I'm amazed that these tools are available to everyone FREE.