Monday, January 20, 2014

Young Fort Lee

The quarter guy was at the flea market yesterday (25 cents per photo) and I wound up with some good finds. No need to show all of them here, just the one below. Here's the very first postcard I came across flipping randomly through stacks. I'm serious.

Two weeks ago this image meant nothing. I would've skipped right over it. But thanks to recent news events, this is now the most notorious section of highway in America. So it went home with me.

Of course this is par for the course with old meaningless photos. Think of the Lewinsky-Clinton hug photo. Or the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev selfie. Or any rookie baseball card. One week they're floating anonymously in the global image stew. The next week they are plucked out and imbued with meaning. Any photo can become a star. It can happen overnight and usually without warning.

Among its other features, any photo serves as a reference point to past knowledge. It captures a data set, showing what we knew at a certain point. That's why dates are so essential to photography. Because when that knowledge base changes, as it always does and sometimes quite radically, our interpretation changes. That's why photographs usually become more interesting with time. An elementary school portrait can be mildly entertaining, but an elementary school portrait of an 80-year old friend is often fascinating. It's like re-reading the opening pages of a mystery after you know who the murderer is.

The photo above could be considered an elementary school portrait of sorts for highway infrastructure. It's a pretty plain photo by itself. I'm not sure why it was even taken. Maybe now it has some historic value, but what gives it real charge is the recent Fort Lee traffic scandal. Alla sudden, va-va-voom. This card just became interesting.

There's no date but I'm guessing this image is from the 30s. Traffic looks pretty light back then, but of course photos can lie. Who knows what the real story is. 


Stan B. said...

Yes, the inherent power of photography has always been its ability to arrest and capture time. Kind of ironic these days when yesterday's photographs are automatically trumped by the anticipation of tomorrow's.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a pedant but is that actually a photograph? To my tired eyes it looks like a watercoloured drawing.

Blake Andrews said...

I think it's a hand colored photo but it's difficult to determine. But even if it's a drawing it seems closely based on a real photograph.

ed g. said...

The thing that strikes me is that nobody ever called it the "Washington Bridge", as far as I know. It was referred to as the "Hudson River Bridge" at first, then named the "George Washington Memorial Bridge". I don't know when they dropped the "Memorial" part. Anyway, the Washington Bridge is an 1880s bridge on the other side of Manhattan.

A little Googling found me a postcard website with some information about the postcard publisher, Metrocard of Everett, MA:
If that's accurate, the postcard is 1939 or later, though I suppose the photo it was based on could be earlier.

Sorry, I'm a little compulsive sometimes.

Blake Andrews said...

Thanks for the research help, Ed.